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Economics professor scoops Latsis prize

Simon Gächter's research looks at group dynamics. Swiss National Science Foundation

An economics professor at St Gallen University has won this year’s Latsis prize for his innovative research work on human cooperation.

This content was published on October 25, 2004 - 20:40

Simon Gächter, who works at the Research Institute for Empirical Economics and Economic Policy, will pick up SFr100,000 ($83,612) for his research on social dilemmas.

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), which presents the annual award, highlighted Gächter’s study of the behaviour of free riders in a group – those who don’t contribute to a project but nevertheless benefit from it.

Gächter, who has also studied philosophy, has shown that a group cooperates best on a long-term basis when it can punish free riders.

His work has led to an understanding of how cooperation or moral behaviour develops at the workplace.

And his experience has shown that in terms of cooperation, the behaviour of an individual depends to a large extent on that of others.

Gächter’s work revealed that there was no shortage of people willing to contribute to the common good if others did the same, said the SNSF.

Altruistic punishment

The economist’s research work was published in 2002 by the science magazine “Nature”, in an article entitled “Altruistic punishment in humans”.

This is when individuals punish someone, even though the punishment is costly for them and yields no material gain.

Gächter wrote the article in cooperation with Ernst Fehr, a professor at the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at Zurich University.

Their research work included an experimental game where 240 students played with real monetary stakes, and winners could choose whether or not to exact a punishment.

The authors commented that their results suggested that future study of the evolution of human cooperation should include a strong focus on explaining altruistic behaviour.

The recipient of the Latsis prize is chosen by the SNSF, which makes the nomination on behalf of the Geneva-based Latsis Foundation, which was created in 1975.

Gächter will receive the prize at a ceremony in Bern on January 13.

In addition to its European prize, the Latsis Foundation also presents a number of annual awards to encourage and reward researchers responsible for important and promising contributions to science and technology in Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The Latsis Foundation was created by Greek shipping tycoon John S Latsis, who died in Geneva in April 2003, aged 93.
The Latsis prize is awarded annually to a researcher under 40.

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In brief

Simon Gächter has won this year’s Latsis prize for his research work into human cooperation.

His work with Professor Ernst Fehr from the University of Zurich has shown experimentally that the altruistic punishment of defectors is a key motive for the explanation of cooperation.

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