The Origin and Evolution of Cultures

By Robert Boyd; Peter J. Richerson | Go to book overview

9
Punishment Allows the
Evolution of
Cooperation (or Anything Else)
in Sizable Groups

Human behavior is unique in that cooperation and division of labor occur in societies composed of large numbers of unrelated individuals. In other eusocial species, such as social insects, societies are made up of close genetic relatives. According to contemporary evolutionary theory, cooperative behavior can be favored by selection only when social groups are formed so that cooperators are more likely to interact with other cooperators than with noncooperators (Hamilton, 1975; Brown, Sanderson, and Michod, 1982; Nunney, 1985). It is widely agreed that kinship is the most likely source of such nonrandom social interaction. Human society is thus an unusual and interesting special case of the evolution of cooperation.

A number of authors have suggested that human eusociality is based on reciprocity (Trivers, 1971; Wilson, 1975; Alexander, 1987), supported by our more sophisticated mental skills to keep track of a large social system. It seems unlikely, however, that natural selection will favor reciprocal cooperation in sizable groups. An extensive literature (reviewed by Axelrod and Dion, 1989; also see Hirshleifer and Martinez-Coll, 1988; Boyd, 1988; Boyd and Richerson, 1989) suggests that cooperation can arise via reciprocity when pairs of individuals interact repeatedly. These results indicate that the evolutionary equilibrium in this setting is likely to be a contingent strategy with the general form: “cooperate the first time you interact with another individual, but continue to cooperate only if the other individual also cooperates.” Several recent articles (Joshi, 1987; Bendor and Mookherjee, 1987; Boyd and Richerson, 1988, 1989) present models in which larger groups of individuals interact repeatedly in potentially cooperative situations. These analyses suggest that the conditions under

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