Culture and the evolution of human cooperation

Robert Boyd, Peter J. Richerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

247 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The scale of human cooperation is an evolutionary puzzle. All of the available evidence suggests that the societies of our Pliocene ancestors were like those of other social primates, and this means that human psychology has changed in ways that support larger, more cooperative societies that characterize modern humans. In this paper, we argue that cultural adaptation is a key factor in these changes. Over the last million years or so, people evolved the ability to learn from each other, creating the possibility of cumulative, cultural evolution. Rapid cultural adaptation also leads to persistent differences between local social groups, and then competition between groups leads to the spread of behaviours that enhance their competitive ability. Then, in such culturally evolved cooperative social environments, natural selection within groups favoured genes that gave rise to new, more pro-social motives. Moral systems enforced by systems of sanctions and rewards increased the reproductive success of individuals who functioned well in such environments, and this in turn led to the evolution of other regarding motives like empathy and social emotions like shame.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3281-3288
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume364
Issue number1533
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 12 2009
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Aptitude
Genes
cooperatives
sanction
competitive ability
psychology
Cultural Evolution
natural selection
ancestry
primate
reproductive success
Shame
Pliocene
social environment
Social Environment
Genetic Selection
emotions
Reward
Primates
gene

Keywords

  • Coevolution
  • Cooperation
  • Culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

Cite this

Culture and the evolution of human cooperation. / Boyd, Robert; Richerson, Peter J.

In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 364, No. 1533, 12.11.2009, p. 3281-3288.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

@article{675b441bb9304fa4abe09b5801e3958a,
title = "Culture and the evolution of human cooperation",
abstract = "The scale of human cooperation is an evolutionary puzzle. All of the available evidence suggests that the societies of our Pliocene ancestors were like those of other social primates, and this means that human psychology has changed in ways that support larger, more cooperative societies that characterize modern humans. In this paper, we argue that cultural adaptation is a key factor in these changes. Over the last million years or so, people evolved the ability to learn from each other, creating the possibility of cumulative, cultural evolution. Rapid cultural adaptation also leads to persistent differences between local social groups, and then competition between groups leads to the spread of behaviours that enhance their competitive ability. Then, in such culturally evolved cooperative social environments, natural selection within groups favoured genes that gave rise to new, more pro-social motives. Moral systems enforced by systems of sanctions and rewards increased the reproductive success of individuals who functioned well in such environments, and this in turn led to the evolution of other regarding motives like empathy and social emotions like shame.",
keywords = "Coevolution, Cooperation, Culture",
author = "Robert Boyd and Richerson, {Peter J.}",
year = "2009",
month = "11",
day = "12",
doi = "10.1098/rstb.2009.0134",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "364",
pages = "3281--3288",
journal = "Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences",
issn = "0800-4622",
publisher = "Royal Society of London",
number = "1533",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Culture and the evolution of human cooperation

AU - Boyd, Robert

AU - Richerson, Peter J.

PY - 2009/11/12

Y1 - 2009/11/12

N2 - The scale of human cooperation is an evolutionary puzzle. All of the available evidence suggests that the societies of our Pliocene ancestors were like those of other social primates, and this means that human psychology has changed in ways that support larger, more cooperative societies that characterize modern humans. In this paper, we argue that cultural adaptation is a key factor in these changes. Over the last million years or so, people evolved the ability to learn from each other, creating the possibility of cumulative, cultural evolution. Rapid cultural adaptation also leads to persistent differences between local social groups, and then competition between groups leads to the spread of behaviours that enhance their competitive ability. Then, in such culturally evolved cooperative social environments, natural selection within groups favoured genes that gave rise to new, more pro-social motives. Moral systems enforced by systems of sanctions and rewards increased the reproductive success of individuals who functioned well in such environments, and this in turn led to the evolution of other regarding motives like empathy and social emotions like shame.

AB - The scale of human cooperation is an evolutionary puzzle. All of the available evidence suggests that the societies of our Pliocene ancestors were like those of other social primates, and this means that human psychology has changed in ways that support larger, more cooperative societies that characterize modern humans. In this paper, we argue that cultural adaptation is a key factor in these changes. Over the last million years or so, people evolved the ability to learn from each other, creating the possibility of cumulative, cultural evolution. Rapid cultural adaptation also leads to persistent differences between local social groups, and then competition between groups leads to the spread of behaviours that enhance their competitive ability. Then, in such culturally evolved cooperative social environments, natural selection within groups favoured genes that gave rise to new, more pro-social motives. Moral systems enforced by systems of sanctions and rewards increased the reproductive success of individuals who functioned well in such environments, and this in turn led to the evolution of other regarding motives like empathy and social emotions like shame.

KW - Coevolution

KW - Cooperation

KW - Culture

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=72649090014&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=72649090014&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1098/rstb.2009.0134

DO - 10.1098/rstb.2009.0134

M3 - Article

VL - 364

SP - 3281

EP - 3288

JO - Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

JF - Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

SN - 0800-4622

IS - 1533

ER -