A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution. By Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis

A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution. By Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis. Princeton University Press 2011. ISBN: 0691151253; 9780691151250


A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution

Why do humans, uniquely among animals, cooperate in large numbers to advance projects for the common good? Contrary to the conventional wisdom in biology and economics, this generous and civic-minded behavior is widespread and cannot be explained simply by far-sighted self-interest or a desire to help close genealogical kin.

In A Cooperative Species, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis–pioneers in the new experimental and evolutionary science of human behavior–show that the central issue is not why selfish people act generously, but instead how genetic and cultural evolution has produced a species in which substantial numbers make sacrifices to uphold ethical norms and to help even total strangers.

The authors describe how, for thousands of generations, cooperation with fellow group members has been essential to survival. Groups that created institutions to protect the civic-minded from exploitation by the selfish flourished and prevailed in conflicts with less cooperative groups. Key to this process was the evolution of social emotions such as shame and guilt, and our capacity to internalize social norms so that acting ethically became a personal goal rather than simply a prudent way to avoid punishment.

Using experimental, archaeological, genetic, and ethnographic data to calibrate models of the coevolution of genes and culture as well as prehistoric warfare and other forms of group competition, A Cooperative Species provides a compelling and novel account of how humans came to be moral and cooperative.

Samuel Bowles heads the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute and teaches economics at the University of Siena. Herbert Gintis holds faculty positions at the Santa Fe Institute, Central European University, and the University of Siena. The authors’ recent research has appeared in Science, Nature, American Economic Review, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Current Anthropology.


“In A Cooperative Species, economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis update their ideas on the evolutionary origins of altruism. Containing new data and analysis, their book is a sustained and detailed argument for how genes and culture have together shaped our ability to cooperate. . . . By presenting clear models that are tied tightly to empirically derived parameters, Bowles and Gintis encourage much-needed debate on the origins of human cooperation.”–Peter Richerson, Nature


“Why we form cooperative societies is not hard to understand given all of the advantages we derive, but how we do it is far less understood. Humans have powerful selfish tendencies, but Bowles and Gintis are not of the school of thought that everything can be reduced to selfishness. They muster all of their expert knowledge to make clear that evolution has produced a species with a truly cooperative spirit and the means to encourage cooperation in others.”–Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy

“Bowles and Gintis stress that cooperation among individuals who are only distantly related is a critical distinguishing feature of the human species. They argue forcefully that the best explanation for such cooperation is altruism. Many will dispute this claim, but it deserves serious consideration.”–Eric Maskin, Nobel Laureate in Economics

“In A Cooperative Species, Bowles and Gintis draw on their own research and teaching about understanding the complex human being in the context of diverse ways of organizing life. They show that humans can evolve cooperative strategies when they participate in groups that share long-term similar norms and are willing to sanction those that do not follow group agreements. An important book for all social scientists.”–Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate in Economics

A Cooperative Species is a fresh and pioneering entry into the pivotal field of human social evolution.”–Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University


Preface xi
Chapter 1: A Cooperative Species [PDF] 1

Chapter 2: The Evolution of Altruism in Humans 8
2.1 Preferences, Beliefs, and Constraints 9
2.2 Social Preferences and Social Dilemmas 10
2.3 Genes, Culture, Groups, and Institutions 13
2.4 Preview 18

Chapter 3: Social Preferences 19
3.1 Strong Reciprocity Is Common 20
3.2 Free-Riders Undermine Cooperation 22
3.3 Altruistic Punishment Sustains Cooperation 24
3.4 Effective Punishment Depends on Legitimacy 26
3.5 Purely Symbolic Punishment Is Effective 29
3.6 People Punish Those Who Hurt Others 31
3.7 Social Preferences Are Not Irrational 32
3.8 Culture and InstitutionsMatter 33
3.9 Behavior Is Conditioned on Group Membership 35
3.10 People Enjoy Cooperating and Punishing Free-Riders 38
3.11 Social Preferences in Laboratory and Natural Settings 39
3.12 Competing Explanations 42

Chapter 4: The Sociobiology of Human Cooperation 46
4.1 Inclusive Fitness and Human Cooperation 48
4.2 Modeling Multi-level Selection 52
4.3 EquilibriumSelection 57
4.4 Reciprocal Altruism 59
4.5 Reciprocal Altruism in Large Groups 63
4.6 Reputation: Indirect Reciprocity 68
4.7 Altruism as a Signal of Quality 71
4.8 Positive Assortment 72
4.9 Mechanisms and Motives 75

Chapter 5: Cooperative Homo economicus 79
5.1 Folk Theorems and Evolutionary Dynamics 80
5.2 The Folk Theorem with Imperfect Public Information 83
5.3 The Folk Theorem with Private Information 86
5.4 Evolutionarily Irrelevant Equilibria 87
5.5 Social Norms and Correlated Equilibria 89
5.6 The Missing Choreographer 90

Chapter 6: Ancestral Human Society 93
6.1 Cosmopolitan Ancestors 95
6.2 Genetic Evidence 99
6.3 PrehistoricWarfare 102
6.4 The Foundations of Social Order 106
6.5 The Crucible of Cooperation 110

Chapter 7: The Coevolution of Institutions and Behaviors 111
7.1 Selective Extinction 115
7.2 Reproductive Leveling 117
7.3 Genetic Differentiation between Groups 120
7.4 Deme Extinction and the Evolution of Altruism 121
7.5 The Australian Laboratory 123
7.6 The Coevolution of Institutions and Altruism 124
7.7 Simulating Gene-Culture Coevolution 126
7.8 Levelers and Warriors 130

Chapter 8: Parochialism, Altruism, andWar 133
8.1 Parochial Altruism and War 135
8.2 The Emergence of Parochial Altruism and War 138
8.3 Simulated and Experimental Parochial Altruism 142
8.4 The Legacy of a Past “Red in Tooth and Claw” 146

Chapter 9: The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity 148
9.1 Coordinated Punishment 150
9.2 Altruistic Punishment in a Realistic Demography 156
9.3 The Emergence of Strong Reciprocity 159
9.4 Why Coordinated Punishment Succeeds 163
9.5 A Decentralized Social Order 164

Chapter 10: Socialization 167
10.1 Cultural Transmission 168
10.2 Socialization and the Survival of Fitness-Reducing Norms 171
10.3 Genes, Culture, and the Internalization of Norms 173
10.4 The Internalized Norm as Hitchhiker 176
10.5 The Gene-Culture Coevolution of a Fitness-Reducing Norm 179
10.6 How Can Internalized Norms Be Altruistic? 180
10.7 The Programmable Brain 183
11 Social Emotions 186
11.1 Reciprocity, Shame, and Punishment 188
11.2 The Evolution of Social Emotions 191
11.3 The “Great Captains of Our Lives” 192
12 Conclusion: Human Cooperation and Its Evolution 195
12.1 The Origins of Human Cooperation 196
12.2 The Future of Cooperation 199

Appendix 201
A1 Altruism Defined 201
A2 Agent-Based Models 202
A3 Game Theory 207
A4 Dynamical Systems 209
A5 The Replicator Dynamic 212
A6 Continuation Probability and Time Discount Factor 213
A7 Alternatives to the Standing Model 214 A8 The Prisoner’s Dilemma with Public and Private Signals 215
A9 Student and Nonstudent Experimental Subjects 217
A10 The Price Equation 218
A11 Weak Multi-level Selection 222
A12 Cooperation and Punishment with Quorum Sensing 223

References 225
Subject Index 251
Author Index 255

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