In order to develop healthy, well functioning societies there must be trust among its people. In a news release on Aug. 28, 2013, the University of Basel reported, on how money can help us trust each other. An international group of researchers from Switzerland, Italy and the U.S. have together shown through an experiment how money can help modern societies prosper by fostering cooperation among strangers.
Survival of the human species clearly depends on cooperation. Our ancestors developed cooperation by banding together in small, close-knit groups of individuals who thrived by reciprocating help with each other over time. However, this evolutionary formula for success
does not seem viable with modern societies, which are composed of millions of individuals who are strangers to each other.
Profesoor Gabriele Camera and his colleagues developed a series of economic experiments in order to examine whether money affects human behavior in ways which can help explain this seeming paradox. The researchers found that trust and cooperation decreased as groups grew larger. In the larger groups subjects gave in to their opportunistic temptations and therefore cooperation significantly declined.
This trend was found to change when researchers introduced what were intrinsically worthless tokens to the group. The participants spontaneously began to reward help with a token while also demanding one in exchange for help. Therefore, the exchange of tokens facilitated greater cooperation among large groups of strangers because participants trusted strangers to return help for a token, in the future. It is the position of the researchers that the influence of monetary systems extends beyond economic performance.
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has published a review of this study dealing with money and trust among strangers. This experiment has demonstrated that the lack of trust among strangers made money behaviorally essential. The researchers found when behavior in society is heterogeneous, cooperation falls apart without tokens. In contrast, the use of tokens makes
cooperation an evolutionarily stable reality.