Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and its Evolution

Found this very cool, and free, book online that looks at the evolution of reciprocity and altruism in human beings.

A Cooperative Species:
Human Recciprocity and its Evolution
Samuel Bowles
Herbert Gintis

Under Construction
Comments and Corrections Deeply Appreciated

Here is a bit of the introduction:
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (2000[1759]) p. 3.

In the pages that follow we advance two propositions. First, people cooperate and punish those who fail to cooperate not only for self-interested reasons but because they are genuinely concerned about the well being of others, care about social norms, and wish to act ethically. Contributing to the success of a joint project for the benefit of one’s group, even at a personal cost, evokes feelings of satisfaction, pride, even elation. Failing to do so is often a source of shame or guilt. Second, we came to have these “moral sentiments” because our ancestors lived in environments, both natural and socially constructed, such that groups in which most individuals were predisposed to cooperate and uphold ethical norms tended to survive and expand relative to other groups, thereby proliferating thees pro-social motivations. The first proposition concerns proximate motivations for social behavior, the second addresses the distant evolutionary origins of these cooperative dispositions.

Cooperation is prominent among the suite of behaviors that mark the emergence of behaviorally modern humans in Africa. Those living 75-90,000 years ago at the mouth of what is now the Klasies River near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for example, consumed eland, hippopotamus, and other large game. Among the remains found there is a now-extinct giant buffalo Pelovoris antiquus that weighed almost 2000 kilograms and whose modern day (smaller) descendant is one of the most dangerous game animals in Africa (Milo 1998). The Klasies River inhabitants, and their contemporaries in other parts of Africa, almost certainly cooperated in the hunt and shared the prey among the members of their group. Evidence of trade in exotic obsidians extending over 300 kilometers in East Africa dating from considerably earlier, provides another unmistakable footprint of early human cooperation.

Like those living at Klasies River mouth, other ‘hunting apes’ quite likely cooperated in the common projects of pursuing large game, sharing the prey and maintaining group defense. Both Homo neanderthalensis and the recently discovered Homo floresiensis survived well into the late Pleistocene and hunted large game, the latter targeting the pygmy (but nonetheless substantial) elephants that had evolved on the island environment of Flores, off the coast of Indonesia.

Other primates engage in common projects among non-kin. Chimpanzees, for example, join common defensive patrols and some hunt cooperatively. Male Hamadyras baboons respect property rights in food and mates. Many species breed cooperatively, with helpers and baby sitters devoting substantial energetic costs to the feeding, protection and other care of non-kin. Social species, including many species of bees and termites, maintain high levels of cooperation. Other common forms of cooperation among non-human animals, summarized by Kappeler and van Schaik (2006) are “grooming and other forms of body care, alarm calling, predator inspection, protection against attacks by predators or conspecifics, supporting injured group members…[and] egg-trading among hermaphrodites.”

Thus, cooperation among Homo sapiens is unique not because it is absent in other animals, but for the scale on which cooperation among non-kin takes place among humans, for the role of what Robert Trivers (1971) termed “moralistic aggression” in sustaining cooperation, and for the importance of cooperation in giving human society its distinctive characteristics.

In the pages that follow we will explain how humans became a uniquely cooperative species.
Looks like an interesting book for anyone interested in evolutionary psychology.

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