The evolution of respect for property

Journal of Evolutionary Biology
T N Sherratt, M Mesterton-Gibbons


Although possession is 'nine-tenths of the law', respect for ownership is widespread in the animal kingdom even without third-party enforcement. Thus, the first individuals to find objects are frequently left unchallenged by potential competitors and tend to win contests when disputes arise. Game theory has shown that respect for ownership ('Bourgeois' behaviour) can arise as an arbitrary convention to avoid costly disputes. However, the same theory predicts that a paradoxical respect for lack of ownership ('anti-Bourgeois' behaviour) can evolve under the same conditions and in some cases is the only stable outcome. Despite these predictions, anti-Bourgeois behaviour is rare in nature, whereas respect for ownership is frequently not absolute. Here, we review extensions of the classic models involving repeated interactions, confusion over roles, strategic coordination of behaviour ('secret handshakes'), owner-intruder asymmetries and continuous control of fighting investment. Confusion over roles and owner-intruder asymmetries in fighting ability may explain why respect for ownership is often partial. Moreover, although most model extensions facilitate the evolution of Bourgeois-like behaviour, secret handshakes and continuous c...Continue Reading


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