It's a wonderful life: Signaling generosity among the Ache of Paraguay

Michael Gurven, Wesley Allen-Arave, Kim Hill, Magdalena Hurtado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

273 Scopus citations


Intensive food sharing among foragers and horticulturists is commonly explained as a means of reducing the risk of daily shortfalls, ensuring adequate daily consumption for all group members who actively pool resources. Consistently high food producers who give more than they receive, however, gain the least risk-reduction benefit from this daily pooling because they are the least likely to go without food on any given day. Why then do some high producers consistently share food, and why do some average producers share proportionally more food than others? We propose that although these individuals may not receive the same amounts they give (i.e., strict Tit-for-Tat), one explanation for their generosity is that they receive additional food during hard times. These include brief episodes of sickness, disease, injury, or accidents - fairly common events in traditional societies that can render individuals incapable of producing food, thereby having long-term effects on morbidity and fecundity and ultimately on lifetime reproductive success. Data collected among the Ache, a group of South American forager-horticulturists, indicate that those who shared and produced more than average (signaling cooperative intent and/or ability to produce) were rewarded with more food from more people when injured or sick than those who shared and produced below average. These results, framed within the context of tradeoffs between short-term and long-term fitness, may provide insight into motivations behind costly expenditures for establishing and reinforcing status and reputation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-282
Number of pages20
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruism
  • Food sharing
  • Generosity
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Reputation
  • Status quest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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