Cooperation is needed for evolution to construct new levels of organization. Genomes, cells, multicellular organisms, social insects, and human society are all based on cooperation. Cooperation means that selfish replicators forgo some of their reproductive potential to help one another. But natural selection implies competition and therefore opposes cooperation unless a specific mechanism is at work. Here I discuss five mechanisms for the evolution of cooperation: kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, network reciprocity, and group selection. For each mechanism, a simple rule is derived that specifies whether natural selection can lead to cooperation.
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"Paradoxically, the evolution of human cooperation is an area of research characterized by both widespread agreement and seemingly interminable controversy. Regarding the widespread agreement, researchers generally accept that the evolution of cooperation requires some kind of informational regularity (Frank, 1998; Henrich, 2004; Nowak, 2006; van Veelen, 2009; Bowles & Gintis, 2011). In its most general form, this regularity can be thought of as a situation in which a cooperating individual is more likely than a defecting individual to interact with someone who cooperates. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: For cooperation to evolve, some mechanism must limit the rate at which cooperators are exposed to defectors. Only then can the advantages of mutual cooperation outweigh the costs of being exploited. Although researchers widely agree on this, they disagree intensely about which evolutionary mechanisms can explain the extraordinary cooperation exhibited by humans. Much of the controversy follows from disagreements about the informational regularity that allows cooperators to avoid defectors. Reliable information can allow cooperative individuals to avoid exploitation, but which mechanisms can sustain such a situation is a matter of considerable dispute. We conducted a behavioral experiment to see if cooperators could avoid defectors when provided with limited amounts of explicit information. We gave each participant the simple option to move away from her current neighborhood at any time. Participants were not identifiable as individuals, and they could not track each other’s tendency to behave more or less cooperatively. More broadly, a participant had no information about the behavior she was likely to encounter if she moved, and so information about the risk of exploitation was extremely limited. Nonetheless, our results show that simply providing the option to move allowed cooperation to persist for a long period of time. Our results further show that movement, even though it involved considerable uncertainty, allowed would-be cooperators to assort positively and eliminate on average any individual payoff disadvantage associated with cooperation. This suggests that choosing to move, even under limited information, can completely reorganize the mix of selective forces relevant for the evolution of cooperation.
Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Evolution and Human Behavior
"This observation is at the basis of an ongoing debate about human nature, i.e., the degree to and conditions under which human behavior is motivated by selfishness. Five evolutionary mechanisms are assumed to have made humans a cooperative species (Nowak, 2006): kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, network reciprocity, and group selection. These mechanisms would also explain why we so frequently observe altruistic punishment; since it is an effective instrument safeguarding altruists from being abused, punishment of free riders became an objective in its own right. "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Prosocial behavior involves costs for the self and results in benefits for others. Altruistic acts confer benefits to others, but net costs to the self. Different types of prosocial behavior are distinguished, depending on whether it is enacted by an individual or as part of a group effort, and whether it is first order (direct contributions) or second order (sanctioning) behavior. Six theoretical approaches are outlined (evolutionary, rationalist, structural, institutional, situational, and individual differences). They explain the evolution of prosocial behavior and its variation across groups, contexts, and situations. Avenues for future research are discussed.
"The individuals of this network make a choice between the cooperation state C and the defection state D, without any form of cognition. This choice is not determined by the wish of maximizing the personal benefit through imitation of the most successful neighbor  or by the greedy choice of an immediate payoff, but imitation is as blind as the bird tendency to select their flying direction on the basis of the flying directions of the neighbor birds , with no consideration of the personal benefit, either direct or indirect. The imitation strength is a control parameter hereby denoted by the symbol K 1 . "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The nodes of a regular two-dimensional lattice play a game based on the joint
action of two distinct levels. At the first step of the game, using a random
prescription half players are assigned the cooperation and half the defection
state. At the bottom level the strategy choice is done on the mere basis of
imitation according to the homo imitans principle, generating a form of
collective intelligence that makes the system sensitive to the criteria
determining the strategy choice adopted at the top level. The units of the top
level, in fact, play the prisoner's dilemma game and are allowed to update
their strategy either by selecting the strategy of the most successful nearest
neighbor, success model, or merely on the basis of the criterion of the best
financial benefit, selfishness model. The intelligence emerging from
imitation-induced criticality leads in the former case to the extinction of
defection and in the latter case to the extinction of cooperation. The former
case is interpreted as a form of network reciprocity enhanced by the
imitation-induced criticality and contributing to the evolution towards
cooperation. We perturb the selfishness model with a form of morality pressure,
exerted by a psychological reward Lambda for cooperation, to establish the
sensitivity of collective intelligence to morality. We find that when Lambda
gets a crucial value Lambda-c, exceeding the temptation to cheat, the system
makes a transition from the supercritical defection state to the critical
regime, with the warning that an excess of morality and religion pressure may
annihilate the criticality-induced resilience of the system.