Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Behavioural science

Homo reciprocans

Humans are often generous, but cooperation unravels when others take advantage of them. Many people punish such 'free riders', even if they do not benefit personally, and this 'altruistic punishment' sustains cooperation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Hardin, G. Science 162, 1243–1248 (1968).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Berkes, F. Nature 340, 91–93 (1989).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Fehr, E. & Gächter, S. Nature 415, 137–140 (2002).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Axelrod, R. & Hamilton, W. D. Science 211, 1390–1396 (1981).

    Article  ADS  MathSciNet  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Nowak, M. & Sigmund, K. Nature 393, 573–577 (1998).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Gintis, H., Smith, E. A. & Bowles, S. J. Theor. Biol. 213, 103–119 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Ledyard, J. O. in The Handbook of Experimental Economics (eds Roth, A. E. & Kagel, J.) 111–194 (Princeton Univ. Press, NJ, 1995).

  8. Fehr, E. & Gächter, S. J. Econ. Perspect. 14, 159–183 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Ostrom, E., Walker, J. & Gardner, R. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 86, 404–417 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bowles, S. & Gintis, H. in Santa Fe Institute Working Paper (January 2002).

  11. Hume, D. Essays: Moral, Political and Literary (Longmans, Green (original publication 1754), London, 1898).

  12. Boehm, C. Hierachy in the Forest (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 2000).

  13. Bowles, S. Economic Behavior and Institutions: An Evolutionary Approach to Microeconomics (Princeton Univ. Press, NJ, 2002).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bowles, S., Gintis, H. Homo reciprocans . Nature 415, 125–127 (2002).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing