From Competition to Cooperation

Understanding the evolution of cooperation–whether between genes or cells or within animal and human societies–remains one of the fundamental challenges of biology (see the Perspective by Boyd). Nowak (p. 1560) reviews the five main mechanisms of cooperation: kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, network reciprocity, and group selection. Bowles (p. 1569) contends that the ecological challenges facing humans during the late Pleistocene resulted in intense competition for resources, frequent group extinctions, and intergroup violence. Genetic, climatic, archaeological, ethnographic, and experimental data were used to look at human cooperation in an economics-based, cost-benefit model. Members of a group bearing genes for altruistic behavior pay a tax by limiting their reproductive opportunities in order to benefit from sharing food and information, thereby increasing the average fitness of the group, as well as their interrelatedness. Bands of altruistic humans would then act in concert to gain resources from other groups at a time when humans faced daily challenges to survival.

One Response to “From Competition to Cooperation”

  1. mike says:

    The Nowak paper is really useful, thanks!