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Investigating the effects of social information on spite in an online game

Watson, Robin; Morgan, Thomas; Kendal, Rachel; Van de Vyver, Julie; Kendal, Jeremy

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Robin Watson
PGR Student Doctor of Philosophy

Thomas Morgan


While humans are highly cooperative, they can also behave spitefully. Yet spite remains understudied. Spite can be normatively driven and while previous experiments have found some evidence that cooperation and punishment may spread via social learning, no experiments have considered the social transmission of spiteful behaviour. Here we present an online experiment where, following an opportunity to earn wealth, we asked participants to choose an action towards an anonymous partner across a full spectrum of social behaviour, from spite to altruism. In accordance with cultural evolutionary theory, participants were presented with social information that varied in source and content. Across six conditions, we informed participants that either the majority or the highest earner had chosen to behave spitefully, neutrally or altruistically. We found an overall tendency towards altruism, but at lower levels among those exposed to spite compared with altruism. We found no difference between social information that came from the majority or the highest earner. Exploratory analysis revealed that participants' earnings negatively correlated with altruistic behaviour. Our results contrast with previous literature that report high rates of spite in experimental samples and a greater propensity for individuals to copy successful individuals over the majority.


Watson, R., Morgan, T., Kendal, R., Van de Vyver, J., & Kendal, J. (2024). Investigating the effects of social information on spite in an online game. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 6, Article e26.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 27, 2024
Online Publication Date Apr 12, 2024
Publication Date Apr 12, 2024
Deposit Date Apr 9, 2024
Publicly Available Date May 13, 2024
Journal Evolutionary Human Sciences
Electronic ISSN 2513-843X
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Article Number e26
Keywords Punishment, Social Learning, Altruism, Social Behaviour, Spite
Public URL
PMID 38689896