The evolution of cooperative behaviour
Past Horizons, 21-11-2012
Human behaviour is a product of two different and interacting processes: genetic evolution and cultural evolution. In a new study, the results show we are more inclined to cooperate than our closest evolutionary relatives. The prevailing wisdom about why this is true has long been focused on the idea of altruism: where we go out of our way for other people, sometimes even sacrificing personal success for the good of others. These modern theories of cooperative behaviour suggest that acting selflessly in a particular moment can provided a longer term advantage to the giver in the form of a return benefit.
A new study published by Current Anthropology offers another explanation for our unusual aptitude for collaboration. The authors of the study argue that humans developed cooperative skills because it was in their shared interest to work well together— changing ecological circumstances forced these early humans to cooperate with others to obtain food. In other words, altruism is not the primary reason we cooperate; on the most basic level we must cooperate in order to survive and altruism is a by-product of the need for cooperative behaviours. Based on results from cognitive and psychological experiments and research on human development, this study provides a comprehensive account of the evolution of cooperation as a two-step process, which begins in small hunter-gatherer groups and later becomes more complex and culturally inscribed in larger societies.