Paleolithic public goods games: Why human culture and cooperation did not evolve in one step

Biology and Philosophy 25 (1):53-73 (2010)
Abstract
It is widely agreed that humans have specific abilities for cooperation and culture that evolved since their split with their last common ancestor with chimpanzees. Many uncertainties remain, however, about the exact moment in the human lineage when these abilities evolved. This article argues that cooperation and culture did not evolve in one step in the human lineage and that the capacity to stick to long-term and risky cooperative arrangements evolved before properly modern culture. I present evidence that Homo heidelbergensis became increasingly able to secure contributions form others in two demanding Paleolithic public good games (PPGGs): cooperative feeding and cooperative breeding. I argue that the temptation to defect is high in these PPGGs and that the evolution of human cooperation in Homo heidelberngensis is best explained by the emergence of modern-like abilities for inhibitory control and goal maintenance. These executive functions are localized in the prefrontal cortex and allow humans to stick to social norms in the face of competing motivations. This scenario is consistent with data on brain evolution that indicate that the largest growth of the prefrontal cortex in human evolution occurred in Homo heidelbergensis and was followed by relative stasis in this part of the brain. One implication of this argument is that subsequent behavioral innovations, including the evolution of symbolism, art, and properly cumulative culture in modern Homo sapiens , are unlikely to be related to a reorganization of the prefrontal cortex, despite frequent claims to the contrary in the literature on the evolution of human culture and cognition.
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