Bio


Robb Willer is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Sociology, Psychology (by courtesy), and the Graduate School of Business (by courtesy) at Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from Cornell University and his B.A. in Sociology from the University of Iowa. He previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor Willer’s teaching and research focus on the bases of social order. One line of his research investigates the factors driving the emergence of collective action, norms, solidarity, generosity, and status hierarchies. In other research, he explores the social psychology of political attitudes, including the effects of fear, prejudice, and masculinity in contemporary U.S. politics. Most recently, his work has focused on morality, studying how people reason about what is right and wrong and the social consequences of their judgments. His research involves various empirical and theoretical methods, including laboratory and field experiments, surveys, direct observation, archival research, physiological measurement, agent-based modeling, and social network analysis.

Willer’s research has appeared in such journals as American Sociology Review, American Journal of Sociology, Annual Review of Sociology, Administrative Science Quarterly, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, Proceedings of the Royal Society B:Biological Sciences,and Social Networks.He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, the California Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. His work has received paper awards from the American Sociological Association’s sections on Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity, Mathematical Sociology, Peace, War, and Social Conflict, and Rationality and Society.

His research has also received widespread media coverage including from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, Science, Nature, Time, U.S. News and World Report, Scientific American, Harper’s, Slate, CNN, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, and National Public Radio.

Willer was the 2009 recipient of the Golden Apple Teaching award, the only teaching award given by UC-Berkeley's student body.

Academic Appointments


  • Professor, Sociology
  • Professor (By courtesy), Organizational Behavior

Administrative Appointments


  • Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley (2012 - 2013)
  • Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University (2012 - 2013)
  • Visiting Professor, Department of Economic and Social Psychology, University of Cologne (2011 - 2011)
  • Director, Laboratory for Social Research, University of California, Berkeley (2006 - 2013)
  • Affiliated Faculty, Department of Cognitive Science, University of California, Berkeley (2006 - 2012)
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley (2006 - 2012)
  • Assistant Professor (By Courtesy), Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley (2006 - 2012)

Honors & Awards


  • Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity Section Outstanding Article Award, Honorable Mention, American Sociological Association (2013)
  • Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity Section Outstanding Article Award, Honorable Mention, American Sociological Association (2012)
  • Rationality and Society Section Paper Award, American Sociological Association (2011)
  • Golden Apple Award for Outstanding Teaching, University of California, Berkeley (2009)
  • Honorary Member, Golden Key International Honor Society (2009)
  • Nominated, Distinguished Graduate Student Mentoring Award, University of California, Berkeley (2009)
  • Mathematical Sociology Section Graduate Student Paper Award (with Stephen Benard), American Sociological Association (2006)
  • Mathematical Sociology Section Paper Award (with Damon Centola and Michael W. Macy), American Sociological Association (2006)
  • Russell Sage Fellowship, Cornell University (2005 - 2006)
  • Peace, War, and Social Conflict Section Elise M. Boulding Best Graduate Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association (2005)
  • Graduate Fellow, American Academy of Political and Social Science (2004)
  • Mathematical Sociology Section Graduate Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association (2004)
  • Robin Williams Jr. Best Graduate Student Paper Award, Cornell University, Department of Sociology (2004)
  • Jacob K. Javits Graduate Fellowship, U.S. Department of Education (2001 - 2005)
  • Russell Sage Fellowship, Cornell University (2000 - 2001)
  • Distinguished Undergraduate Scholar Award, University of Iowa (2000)
  • Manford Kuhn Graduate Student Paper Award for “The Propensity-Utility Theory of Deviance'', Iowa Sociological Association (2000)
  • Outstanding Senior Sociology Student, University of Iowa (1999)

Boards, Advisory Committees, Professional Organizations


  • Reviewer, American Sociological Review
  • Reviewer, American Journal of Sociology
  • Reviewer, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
  • Reviewer, Administrative Science Quarterly
  • Reviewer, American Political Science Review
  • Reviewer, Social Forces
  • Reviewer, Psychological Review
  • Reviewer, National Science Foundation
  • Reviewer, Social Psychology Quarterly
  • Reviewer, Sociological Theory
  • Reviewer, Organization Science
  • Reviewer, Social Problems
  • Reviewer, European Review of Philosophy
  • Reviewer, The Sociological Quarterly
  • Reviewer, Social Science Research
  • Reviewer, Sociological Focus
  • Reviewer, Social Justice Research
  • Reviewer, Rationality and Society
  • Reviewer, PLoS ONE
  • Reviewer, Current Research in Social Psychology
  • Reviewer, Encyclopedia of Human Behavior
  • Reviewer, Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology
  • Consulting Editor, Sociological Science (2013)
  • Member, Editorial Board, Sociological Theory (2012)
  • Consulting Editor, American Journal of Sociology (2011 - 2013)
  • Associate Principal Investigator, Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (2013)
  • Council Member (Elected), American Sociological Association Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity Section (2012 - 2014)
  • Member, Nominations Committee, American Sociological Association Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity Section (2013 - 2014)
  • Council Member (Elected), American Sociological Association Social Psychology Section (2010 - 2012)
  • Council Member (Elected), American Sociological Association Mathematical Sociology Section (2009 - 2011)
  • Chair, Paper Award Committee, American Sociological Association Mathematical Sociology Section (2010 - 2011)
  • Chair, Book Award Committee, American Sociological Association Mathematical Sociology Section (2009 - 2010)
  • Member, Graduate Student Paper Award Committee, American Sociological Association Theory Section (2009 - 2010)
  • Co-Chair, Graduate Student Paper Award Committee, Berkeley Sociology Department (2009 - 2010)
  • Co-Organizer, Group Processes Miniconference (2009 - 2009)
  • Presider, Group Processes Regular Session, American Sociological Association Meetings Annual Meetings (2009 - 2009)
  • Member, Program Committee, Social Psychology Section (2008 - 2009)
  • Council Member (Elected), American Sociological Association Mathematical Sociology Section (2005 - 2007)
  • Member, American Sociological Association Mathematical Sociology Section Award Committee (2006 - 2007)
  • Elected Member, American Sociological Association Student Forum Advisory Board (2005 - 2006)
  • Faculty Advisor, Alpha Kappa Delta (Sociology Honor’s Society), University of California, Berkeley (2009 - 2012)
  • Series Organizer, Sociology Departmental Colloquium (2008 - 2009)
  • Director, Laboratory for Social Research, University of California, Berkeley (2006 - Present)
  • Member, Graduate Admissions Committee, University of California, Berkeley (2007 - 2008)
  • Assistant Director, Organizational Behavior Laboratory, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (2001 - 2006)
  • Member, Junior Search Committee, Department of Sociology, Cornell University (2004 - 2004)
  • Sociology Department Representative, Council of Representatives, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Cornell University (2001 - 2004)
  • Committee Member (Elected), Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, Cornell University (2002 - 2004)
  • Chairman (Elected), Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Finance Committee, Cornell University (2002 - 2003)
  • Committee Member (Elected), University Assembly, Cornell University (2003 - 2003)
  • Assistant Director, Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory, Cornell University (2001 - 2006)
  • Research Assistant, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University (2001 - 2003)
  • Research Assistant, Center for the Study of Group Processes, University of Iowa (1998 - 2000)
  • Member, American Sociological Association
  • Member, Society of Experimental Social Psychology
  • Member, Association for Psychological Science
  • Member, Society for Personality and Social Psychology
  • Member, Alpha Kappa Delta
  • Member, Golden Key International Honor Society

Program Affiliations


  • Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Professional Education


  • Ph.D., Cornell University, Sociology (2006)
  • M.A., Cornell University, Sociology (2004)
  • B.A., University of Iowa, Sociology (1999)

Stanford Advisees


All Publications


  • A Sense of Powerlessness Fosters System Justification: Implications for the Legitimation of Authority, Hierachry, and Government Political Psychology Willer, R., der Toorn, J. V., Feinberg, M., Jost, J. T., Kay, A. C., Tyler, T., Wilmuth, C. 2014
  • "Thou Shalt Not Kill": Religious Fundamentalism, Conservatism, and Rule-Based Moral Processing PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION AND SPIRITUALITY Young, O. A., Willer, R., Keltner, D. 2013; 5 (2): 110-115

    View details for DOI 10.1037/a0032262

    View details for Web of Science ID 000319372500006

  • For Whom Do the Ends Justify the Means? Social Class and Utilitarian Moral Judgment JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY Cote, S., Piff, P. K., Willer, R. 2013; 104 (3): 490-503

    Abstract

    Though scholars have speculated for centuries on links between individuals' social class standing and approach to moral reasoning, little systematic research exists on how class and morality are associated. Here, we investigate whether the tendency of upper-class individuals to exhibit reduced empathy makes them more likely to resist intuitionist options in moral dilemmas, instead favoring utilitarian choices that maximize the greatest good for the greatest number. In Study 1, upper-class participants were more likely than lower-class participants to choose the utilitarian option in the footbridge dilemma, which evokes relatively strong moral intuitions, but not in the standard trolley dilemma, which evokes relatively weak moral intuitions. In Study 2, upper-class participants were more likely to take resources from one person to benefit several others in an allocation task, and this association was explained by their lower empathy for the person whose resources were taken. Finally, in Study 3, the association between social class and utilitarian judgment was reduced in a condition in which empathy was induced, but not in a control condition, suggesting that reduced empathy helps account for the utilitarianism of upper-class individuals.

    View details for DOI 10.1037/a0030931

    View details for Web of Science ID 000315130400006

    View details for PubMedID 23276265

  • The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Feinberg, M., Willer, R. 2013; 24 (1): 56-62

    Abstract

    Americans' attitudes about the environment are highly polarized, but it is unclear why this is the case. We conducted five studies to examine this issue. Studies 1a and 1b demonstrated that liberals, but not conservatives, view the environment in moral terms and that this tendency partially explains the relation between political ideology and environmental attitudes. Content analyses of newspaper op-eds (Study 2a) and public-service announcements (Study 2b) found that contemporary environmental discourse is based largely on moral concerns related to harm and care, which are more deeply held by liberals than by conservatives. However, we found that reframing proenvironmental rhetoric in terms of purity, a moral value resonating primarily among conservatives, largely eliminated the difference between liberals' and conservatives' environmental attitudes (Study 3). These results establish the importance of moralization as a cause of polarization on environmental attitudes and suggest that reframing environmental discourse in different moral terms can reduce the gap between liberals and conservatives in environmental concern.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797612449177

    View details for Web of Science ID 000315099700008

    View details for PubMedID 23228937

  • The Corruption of Value: Negative Moral Associations Diminish the Value of Money Social Psychological and Personality Science Stellar, J., Willer, R. 2013
  • Overdoing Gender: A Test of the Masculine Overcompensation Thesis AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY Willer, R., Rogalin, C. L., Conlon, B., Wojnowicz, M. T. 2013; 118 (4): 980-1022

    View details for DOI 10.1086/668417

    View details for Web of Science ID 000317580100004

  • Hidden Paths from Morality to Social Order: Moral Judgments Promote Prosocial Behavior Social Forces Simpsom, B., Harrel, A., Willer, R. 2013; 91: 1529-1548
  • My Brother's Keeper? Compassion Predicts Generosity More Among Less Religious Individuals SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PERSONALITY SCIENCE Saslow, L. R., Willer, R., Feinberg, M., Piff, P. K., Clark, K., Keltner, D., Saturn, S. R. 2013; 4 (1): 31-38
  • Gut Check: Reappraisal of Disgust Helps Explain Liberal- Conservative Differences on Issues of Purity Emotion Feinberg, M., Antonenko, O., Willer, R., Horberg, E. J., John, O. P. 2013
  • The Role of Gender Identity Threat in Perceptions of Date Rape and Sexual Coercion VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN Munsch, C. L., Willer, R. 2012; 18 (10): 1125-1146

    Abstract

    We experimentally investigated the effects of gender identity threat on men's and women's perceptions of date rape and sexual coercion. Results showed that men whose masculinity was threatened responded by blaming the victim and exonerating the perpetrator more, while threatened women respond by blaming male perpetrators more and placing less blame on female victims. Men's response to threats was more pronounced than women's, an asymmetry we attribute to the cultural devaluation of femininity. Our findings highlight the significance of masculinity concerns in perceptions of sexual violence and, more generally, the importance of perceiver context in views of violence against women.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/1077801212465151

    View details for Web of Science ID 000310796700002

    View details for PubMedID 23136179

  • Status Hierarchies and the Organization of Collective Action SOCIOLOGICAL THEORY Simpson, B., Willer, R., Ridgeway, C. L. 2012; 30 (3): 149-166
  • The Virtues of Gossip: Reputational Information Sharing as Prosocial Behavior JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY Feinberg, M., Willer, R., Stellar, J., Keltner, D. 2012; 102 (5): 1015-1030

    Abstract

    Reputation systems promote cooperation and deter antisocial behavior in groups. Little is known, however, about how and why people share reputational information. Here, we seek to establish the existence and dynamics of prosocial gossip, the sharing of negative evaluative information about a target in a way that protects others from antisocial or exploitative behavior. We present a model of prosocial gossip and the results of 4 studies testing the model's claims. Results of Studies 1 through 3 demonstrate that (a) individuals who observe an antisocial act experience negative affect and are compelled to share information about the antisocial actor with a potentially vulnerable person, (b) sharing such information reduces negative affect created by observing the antisocial behavior, and (c) individuals possessing more prosocial orientations are the most motivated to engage in such gossip, even at a personal cost, and exhibit the greatest reduction in negative affect as a result. Study 4 demonstrates that prosocial gossip can effectively deter selfishness and promote cooperation. Taken together these results highlight the roles of prosocial motivations and negative affective reactions to injustice in maintaining reputational information sharing in groups. We conclude by discussing implications for reputational theories of the maintenance of cooperation in human groups.

    View details for DOI 10.1037/a0026650

    View details for Web of Science ID 000303221400008

    View details for PubMedID 22229458

  • The Origins of Deference: When Do People Prefer Lower Status? JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY Anderson, C., Willer, R., Kilduff, G. J., Brown, C. E. 2012; 102 (5): 1077-1088

    Abstract

    Although the desire for high status is considered universal, prior research suggests individuals often opt for lower status positions. Why would anyone favor a position of apparent disadvantage? In 5 studies, we found that the broad construct of status striving can be broken up into two conceptions: one based on rank, the other on respect. While individuals might universally desire high levels of respect, we find that they vary widely in the extent to which they strive for high-status rank, with many individuals opting for middle- or low-status rank. The status rank that individuals preferred depended on their self-perceived value to the group: when they believed they provided less value, they preferred lower status rank. Mediation and moderation analyses suggest that beliefs about others' expectations were the primary driver of these effects. Individuals who believed they provided little value to their group inferred that others expected them to occupy a lower status position. Individuals in turn conformed to these perceived expectations, accepting lower status rank in such settings.

    View details for DOI 10.1037/a0027409

    View details for Web of Science ID 000303221400012

    View details for PubMedID 22369047

  • Structure, Identity, and Solidarity: A Comparative Field Study of Generalized and Direct Exchange ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCE QUARTERLY Willer, R., Flynn, F. J., Zak, S. 2012; 57 (1): 119-155
  • Gossip as an effective and low-cost form of punishment BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES Feinberg, M., Cheng, J. T., Willer, R. 2012; 35 (1)

    Abstract

    The spreading of reputational information about group members through gossip represents a widespread, efficient, and low-cost form of punishment. Research shows that negative arousal states motivate individuals to gossip about the transgressions of group members. By sharing information in this way groups are better able to promote cooperation and maintain social control and order.

    View details for DOI 10.1017/S0140525X11001233

    View details for Web of Science ID 000300708200012

    View details for PubMedID 22289314

  • Liberating Reason From the Passions: Overriding Intuitionist Moral Judgments Through Emotion Reappraisal PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Feinberg, M., Willer, R., Antonenko, O., John, O. P. 2012; 23 (7): 788-795

    Abstract

    A classic problem in moral psychology concerns whether and when moral judgments are driven by intuition versus deliberate reasoning. In this investigation, we explored the role of reappraisal, an emotion-regulation strategy that involves construing an emotion-eliciting situation in a way that diminishes the intensity of the emotional experience. We hypothesized that although emotional reactions evoke initial moral intuitions, reappraisal weakens the influence of these intuitions, leading to more deliberative moral judgments. Three studies of moral judgments in emotionally evocative, disgust-eliciting moral dilemmas supported our hypothesis. A greater tendency to reappraise was related to fewer intuition-based judgments (Study 1). Content analysis of open-ended descriptions of moral-reasoning processes revealed that reappraisal was associated with longer time spent in deliberation and with fewer intuitionist moral judgments (Study 2). Finally, in comparison with participants who simply watched an emotion-inducing film, participants who had been instructed to reappraise their reactions while watching the film subsequently reported less intense emotional reactions to moral dilemmas, and these dampened reactions led, in turn, to fewer intuitionist moral judgments (Study 3).

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797611434747

    View details for Web of Science ID 000327693800031

    View details for PubMedID 22636202

  • How Do the Powerful Attain Status? The Roots of Legitimate Power Inequalities Managerial and Decision Economics Willer, R., Youngreen, R., Troyer, L., Lovaglia, M. 2012; 33: 355-367
  • Flustered and Faithful: Embarrassment as a Signal of Prosociality JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY Feinberg, M., Willer, R., Keltner, D. 2012; 102 (1): 81-97

    Abstract

    Although individuals experience embarrassment as an unpleasant, negative emotion, the authors argue that expressions of embarrassment serve vital social functions, signaling the embarrassed individual's prosociality and fostering trust. Extending past research on embarrassment as a nonverbal apology and appeasement gesture, the authors demonstrate that observers recognize the expression of embarrassment as a signal of prosociality and commitment to social relationships. In turn, observers respond with affiliative behaviors toward the signaler, including greater trust and desire to affiliate with the embarrassed individual. Five studies tested these hypotheses and ruled out alternative explanations. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals who are more embarrassable also reported greater prosociality and behaved more generously than their less embarrassable counterparts. Results of Studies 2-5 revealed that observers rated embarrassed targets as being more prosocial and less antisocial relative to targets who displayed either a different emotion or no emotion. In addition, observers were more willing to give resources and express a desire to affiliate with these targets, and these effects were mediated by perceptions of the targets as prosocial.

    View details for DOI 10.1037/a0025403

    View details for Web of Science ID 000298559500007

    View details for PubMedID 21928915

  • Stigma and Glucose Levels: Testing Ego Depletion and Arousal Explanations of Stereotype Threat Effects Current Research in Social Psychology Penner, A., Willer, R. 2011; 16: 1 - 15
  • Social Mechanisms and Generative Explanations: Computational Models with Double Agents Analytic Sociology and Social Mechanisms Macy, M., Centola, D., Flache, A., Rijit, A. v., Willer, R. edited by Demeulenaere, P. Cambridge University. 2011: 250 - 265
  • Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Feinberg, M., Willer, R. 2011; 22 (1): 34-38

    Abstract

    Though scientific evidence for the existence of global warming continues to mount, in the United States and other countries belief in global warming has stagnated or even decreased in recent years. One possible explanation for this pattern is that information about the potentially dire consequences of global warming threatens deeply held beliefs that the world is just, orderly, and stable. Individuals overcome this threat by denying or discounting the existence of global warming, and this process ultimately results in decreased willingness to counteract climate change. Two experiments provide support for this explanation of the dynamics of belief in global warming, suggesting that less dire messaging could be more effective for promoting public understanding of climate-change research.

    View details for DOI 10.1177/0956797610391911

    View details for Web of Science ID 000294708600007

    View details for PubMedID 21148457

  • The Trouble with Invisible Men: How Reputational Concerns Motivate Generosity The Handbook of the Sociology of Morality Willer, R., Feinberg, M., Irwin, K., Schultz, M., Simpson, B. edited by Hitlin, S., Vaisey, S. New York: Springer. 2010: 315-330
  • The False Enforcement of Unpopular Norms AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY Willer, R., Kuwabara, K., Macy, M. W. 2009; 115 (2): 451-490

    Abstract

    Prevailing theory assumes that people enforce norms in order to pressure others to act in ways that they approve. Yet there are numerous examples of "unpopular norms" in which people compel each other to do things that they privately disapprove. While peer sanctioning suggests a ready explanation for why people conform to unpopular norms, it is harder to understand why they would enforce a norm they privately oppose. The authors argue that people enforce unpopular norms to show that they have complied out of genuine conviction and not because of social pressure. They use laboratory experiments to demonstrate this "false enforcement" in the context of a wine tasting and an academic text evaluation. Both studies find that participants who conformed to a norm due to social pressure then falsely enforced the norm by publicly criticizing a lone deviant. A third study shows that enforcement of a norm effectively signals the enforcer's genuine support for the norm. These results demonstrate the potential for a vicious cycle in which perceived pressures to conform to and falsely enforce an unpopular norm reinforce one another.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000270921400004

    View details for PubMedID 20614762

  • Groups Reward Individual Sacrifice: The Status Solution to the Collective Action Problem AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW Willer, R. 2009; 74 (1): 23-43
  • No Atheists in Foxholes: Motivated Reasoning and Religious Ideology Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification Willer, R. edited by Jost, J. T., Kay, A. C., Thorisdottir, H. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 2009: 241-266
  • A Status Theory of Collective Action Advances in Group Processes Willer, R. edited by Thyne, S. R., Lawler, E. J. London: Emerald. 2009: 133-163
  • Altruism and indirect reciprocity: The interaction of person and situation in prosocial behavior SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY QUARTERLY Simpson, B., Willer, R. 2008; 71 (1): 37-52
  • Deterring Deviance: Rationality and Self- Control Experiments in Criminology and Law Kalkhoff, W., Willer, R. edited by Horne, C., Lovaglia, M. J. New York: Rowan and Littlefield. 2008: 39 - 62
  • The Threat of Terrorism and Support for the 2008 Presidential Candidates: Results of a National Field Experiment Current Research in Social Psychology Willer, R., Adams, N. 2008; 14: 1 - 22
  • Culture, identity, and structure in social exchange: A web-based trust experiment in the United States and Japan SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY QUARTERLY Kuwabaaa, K., Willer, R., Macy, M. W., Mashima, R., Terri, S., Yamagishi, T. 2007; 70 (4): 461-479
  • Partner choice creates competitive altruism in humans PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES Barclay, P., Willer, R. 2007; 274 (1610): 749-753

    Abstract

    Reciprocal altruism has been the backbone of research on the evolution of altruistic behaviour towards non-kin, but recent research has begun to apply costly signalling theory to this problem. In addition to signalling resources or abilities, public generosity could function as a costly signal of cooperative intent, benefiting altruists in terms of (i) better access to cooperative relationships and (ii) greater cooperation within those relationships. When future interaction partners can choose with whom they wish to interact, this could lead to competition to be more generous than others. Little empirical work has tested for the possible existence of this 'competitive altruism'. Using a cooperative monetary game with and without opportunities for partner choice and signalling cooperative intent, we show here that people actively compete to be more generous than others when they can benefit from being chosen for cooperative partnerships, and the most generous people are correspondingly chosen more often as cooperative partners. We also found evidence for increased scepticism of altruistic signals when the potential reputational benefits for dishonest signalling were high. Thus, this work supports the hypothesis that public generosity can be a signal of cooperative intent, which people sometimes 'fake' when conditions permit it.

    View details for DOI 10.1098/rspb.2006.0209

    View details for Web of Science ID 000243439700018

    View details for PubMedID 17255001

  • The role of metanetworks in network evolution JOURNAL OF MATHEMATICAL SOCIOLOGY Willer, R. 2007; 31 (2): 101-119
  • A wealth and status-based model of residential segregation JOURNAL OF MATHEMATICAL SOCIOLOGY Benard, S., Willer, R. 2007; 31 (2): 149-174
  • Influence over observers of structural power: An experimental investigation SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY Willer, R., Troyer, L., LOVAGLIA, M. J. 2005; 46 (2): 263-277
  • The emperor's dilemma: A computational model of self-enforcing norms AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY Centola, D., WILLER, R., Macy, M. 2005; 110 (4): 1009-1040
  • The Effects of Government-Issued Terror Warnings on Presidential Approval Ratings Current Research in Social Psychology Willer, R. 2004; 10 (1): 1 - 12
  • Power, Status, and Collective Action: Developing Fundamental Theories to Address a Substantive Problem Advances in Group Processes Lovaglia, M. J., Willer, R., Troyer, L. edited by Thyne, S. R., Skoretz, J. New York: Elsevier. 2003: 05-132
  • Network Exchange Theory New Directions in Sociological Theory: The Growth of Contemporary Theories Willer, D., Markovsky, B., Walker, H., Willer, R., Simpson, B., Lovaglia, M., Thye, S. edited by Berger, J., Zelditch, M. E. Rowan and Littlefield. 2002: 109 - 144
  • Games, Norms and Status: A Theoretical Model of Solidarity and Cohesion Advances in Group Processes Willer, D., Borch, C., Willer, R. edited by Thyne, S. R., Lawler, E. J. New York: Elsevier. 2002
  • From factors to actors: Computational sociology and agent-based modeling ANNUAL REVIEW OF SOCIOLOGY Macy, M. W., Willer, R. 2002; 28: 143-166
  • Theory, Simulation and Research: The New Synthesis The Growth of Social Knowledge: Theory, Simulation and Empirical Research in Group Processes Lovaglia, M. J., Willer, R. edited by Szmatka, J., Lovaglia, M., Wysienka, K. Westport, CT: Praeger. 2002: 247 - 262
  • Exploring dynamic networks: hypotheses and conjectures SOCIAL NETWORKS WILLER, R., Willer, D. 2000; 22 (3): 251-272