Why Humans Cooperate: A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation

Why Humans Cooperate: A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation

Why Humans Cooperate: A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation

Why Humans Cooperate: A Cultural and Evolutionary Explanation


Why Humans Cooperate takes a unique look at the evolution of human cooperation and tries to answer the question: why are people willing to help others at a cost to themselves? The book brings together evolutionary theories, economic experiments, and an anthropological case study that runs throughout the book to explain and illustrate human cooperation. Using an evolutionary framework, Natalie Henrich and Joseph Henrich have expanded upon several diverse theories for explaining cooperative for "helpful" behavior and integrated them into a unified theory. Established concepts such as kin selection and reciprocity have been linked with theories on social learning and our evolved psychologies to explain the universality of human cooperation-as well as the distinctive ways in which cooperative behavior expresses itself in different cultures.


A man who was not impelled by any deep, instinctive feeling, to
sacrifice his life for the good of others, yet was roused to such actions
by a sense of glory, would by his example excite the same wish for
glory in other men, and would strengthen by exercise the noble feeling
of admiration. He might thus do far more good to his tribe than by
begetting offspring with a tendency to inherit his own high character.

—Charles Darwin, “On the Development of the Intellectual and
Moral Faculties,” chap. 5 of The Descent of Man

This book is an inquiry into one of the great puzzles in the human sciences: the evolution of cooperation and altruism in the human species. Unlike many works on this question, we seek to simultaneously draw together formal theoretical work on the evolution of cooperation, rich ethnographic descriptions of human social life, and a wide range of experimental results from both the laboratory and the field. On the theoretical front, we provide an introduction to the puzzle of human cooperation and a unified theoretical framework that integrates culture, psychology, and evolution in a manner that makes these concepts accessible to nonspecialists. From this general framework a set of theoretical foci emerge to provide a backbone for the book and place this work in a context that will evoke a sense of familiarity for those who have studied human societies. These foci are (1) kinship, (2) reciprocity and reputation, (3) social norms, and (4) ethnicity. Though we have attempted to present this theoretical material at an introductory level, we believe that more advanced students and scholars will find our synthesis of culture, coevolution, and cooperation worthwhile and provocative.

Breathing life into the deductive logic and equations that buttress our theoretical presentation, we develop a body of ethnographic material on social life from 18 months of study by Natalie Smith Henrich among the Chaldeans of metro Detroit, as they lived, worked, and socialized at the end of the twentieth century. the community studied in this book is made up of first-, second-, and third-generation Catholic immigrants from Iraq who are predominantly middle- and upper-class inhabitants of Southfield, Michigan. As a focused . . .

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