psychology department and they get told something different again. This is not OK. It’s not acceptable that the economists are happy with their world and the sociologists are happy with their world, and this persists in an institution which is supposed to be about getting at the truth.”14

Perhaps the rise of game theory as a social science tool, though, will help change that situation. In particular, merging the abstract math of game theory with the real-world immersion of anthropologists and other social scientists has begun to show how disparate views of human nature may be drawn closer to how life really works.

“Somehow in the last 20 years there’s been this emergence,” Boyd said, “of people who are interested in doing mathematical theory like game theory, but building it on psychologically real people.”


The fairness displayed in many societies and the variety of behaviors among them are hard to reconcile with the view that human psychology is universally programmed by the evolutionary past. A hard-line interpretation of evolutionary psychology would predict similar behavior everywhere. The game experiment project argues otherwise, posing a conundrum for evolutionary psychologists.

“I think that if it had turned out that everywhere in the world people were … ruthlessly selfish, they would have said, ‘See, I told you so,’” said Boyd. “And when it didn’t turn out that way … that’s not a comfortable fact for them. It’s some fairly strong evidence on the other side of the scale.” He pointed out, though, that evolution remains important to human psychology. “No educated person should doubt that our psychology is the product of evolution— that’s a given,” Boyd said. “The question is, how did it work?”

And as Camerer pointed out, evolutionary psychologists can always retreat to the fallback position that the ancestral environment programmed people to be different. But in that case the original claim about a single “human nature” is substantially softened. “I

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