Human Cooperation

Evolutionary Approaches to a Complex Phenomenon

Authored by: Lee Cronk

Handbook on Evolution and Society

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9781612058146
eBook ISBN: 9781315634203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258339


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Humans work together to achieve common goals on larger scales and in a wider variety of ways than do members of any other species. In a word, they cooperate. They do so despite many obstacles to cooperation, which come in two main varieties: (1) collective action dilemmas, which arise from conflicts of interest among would-be cooperators, and (2) coordination problems, which arise from a lack of common knowledge about how cooperation can be achieved. Evolutionary scientists have identified a variety of factors that help people solve these problems. These include kinship, a high likelihood of repeated interactions, an ability to distinguish cooperators from noncooperators and preferentially associate with the former, concerns about audiences and resulting reputations, an ability to send and receive signals regarding individuals' levels of commitment to cooperative enterprises, and the importance of dealing with an uncertain future through risk-pooling arrangements. Although we understand a great deal more about the evolution of human cooperation now than we did a half century ago, when this approach was first developing, much work remains to be done. Some current frontiers in the evolutionary analysis of human cooperation include the study of coordination problems, cultural group selection, coalitional psychology, and a greater appreciation of the institutional and organizational contexts in which most human cooperation occurs.

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