Research shows that many animal species have morphological and cognitive adaptations for fighting with others to gain resources, but it remains unclear how humans make fighting decisions. Non-human animals often adaptively calibrate fighting behavior to ecological variables such as resource quantity and whether the resource is distributed uniformly or clustered in patches. Also, many species use strategies to reduce fighting costs such as resolving disputes based on power asymmetries or conventions. Here we show that humans apply an ownership convention in response to the problem of severe fighting. We designed a virtual environment where ten participants, acting as avatars, could forage and fight for electronic food items (convertible to cash). In the patchy condition, we observed an ownership convention—the avatar who arrives first is more likely to win—but in the uniform condition, where severe fighting is rare, the ownership convention is absent.
DeScioli, P. and Wilson, B.J. (2010). Mine and thine: The territorial foundations of human property. ESI Working Paper 10-10. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/esi_working_papers/121