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 and Joseph Henrich have expanded upon several diverse theories for explaining cooperative or ‘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.
The theories developed in the book are brought to life by examining the Chaldeans of metropolitan Detroit. By exploring Chaldean cooperation, theoretical concepts are shown to translate into social behavior, and universal psychologies for cooperation lead to culturally-specific norms, beliefs, and practices. The book also introduces a series of economic experiments that help us understand why, when, and to what extent people are willing to help others. These experiments also highlight the variation in behaviors across cultural groups, even when all the groups rely on the same cognitive machinery and evolved psychologies. The merging of theory, experiments, and the Chaldean case study allows for an in-depth exploration of the origins and manifestations of cooperation.