"If you do not have well-functioning governments then you need these kinds of motivations, because then you are doing what is best for your group and for your local community," said Joseph Henrich of University of British Columbia in Canada.

A series of experiments found that people in societies with supportive government services, food security and institutions that meet their basic needs were very likely to follow impartial rules about how to give out money.

By contrast, those without effective, reliable institutions showed favoritism toward members of their local community.

The study, done in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Fiji, China, Iceland and the US, tested motivations using a game. Researchers gave the participants half a day's wages in cash and placed them before two cups. They told the subjects that the money placed in one cup would go to an unspecified member of their community or group at the end of the game, while the money in the other cup would go to an outsider.

Played fairly, the game would result in both cups having the same amount of money at the end. Researchers made sure individual players knew that no one could see them cheating while the game was being played.

The study found that people from countries with effective institutions followed the rules, while people from countries with poor institutions were biased in favour of community members.

"In a world with well-functioning institutions, this gets inside of people and actually affects their basic motivations, even when they are in a situation when no one is watching," Henrich noted.

The forthcoming study will appear in the journal Human Nature.

(Agencies)

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