Cultural evolution of human cooperation

Abstract

Evolutionary theory relevant to the question of human cooperation is reviewed and compared to other theoretical perspectives. A compound explanation is distilled as a plausible account of human cooperation and selfishness. This account leans heavily on group selection on cultural variation but also includes lower-level forces driven by both micro-scale cooperation and purely selfish motives. It is proposed that innate aspects of human social psychology coevolved with group-selected cultural institutions to produce just the kinds of social and moral faculties originally proposed by Darwin. This is termed the “tribal social instincts” hypothesis. The account is systemic in the sense that human social systems are functionally differentiated, conflicted, and diverse. A successful explanation of human cooperation has to account for these complexities. For example, a tribal-scale cultural group selection process alone cannot account for human patterns of cooperation because, on one hand, much conflict exists within tribes and, on the other, people have proven able to organize cooperation on a much larger scale than tribes. Multilevel selection and gene-culture coevolution effects are included to account for some of these complexities and empirical tests of the resulting hypotheses are discussed. In particular, it is argued that strong support for the tribal social instincts hypothesis comes from the structure of modern social institutions. These institutions have conspicuous “work-arounds” that shed light on the underlying instincts.

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