Humans are an exceptionally cooperative species, but there is substantial variation in the extent of cooperation across societies. Understanding the sources of this variability may provide insights about the forces that sustain cooperation. We examined the ontogeny of prosocial behavior by studying 326 children 3-14 y of age and 120 adults from six societies (age distributions varied across societies). These six societies span a wide range of extant human variation in culture, geography, and subsistence strategies, including foragers, herders, horticulturalists, and urban dwellers across the Americas, Oceania, and Africa. When delivering benefits to others was personally costly, rates of prosocial behavior dropped across all six societies as children approached middle childhood and then rates of prosociality diverged as children tracked toward the behavior of adults in their own societies. When prosocial acts did not require personal sacrifice, prosocial responses increased steadily as children matured with little variation in behavior across societies. Our results are consistent with theories emphasizing the importance of acquired cultural norms in shaping costly forms of cooperation and creating cross-cultural diversity.
Norenzayan, A., J. Henrich, and E. Slingerland. “Religious prosociality: a synthesis.” In Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language and Religion, edited by P. J. Richerson and M. H. Christiansen, 365-380. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013.
Much existing literature in anthropology suggests that teaching is rare in non-Western societies, and that cultural transmission is mostly vertical (parent-to-offspring). However, applications of evolutionary theory to humans predict both teaching and non-vertical transmission of culturally learned skills, behaviors, and knowledge should be common cross-culturally. Here, we review this body of theory to derive predictions about when teaching and non-vertical transmission should be adaptive, and thus more likely to be observed empirically. Using three interviews conducted with rural Fijian populations, we find that parents are more likely to teach than are other kin types, high-skill and highly valued domains are more likely to be taught, and oblique transmission is associated with high-skill domains, which are learned later in life. Finally, we conclude that the apparent conflict between theory and empirical evidence is due to a mismatch of theoretical hypotheses and empirical claims across disciplines, and we reconcile theory with the existing literature in light of our results.
Humans regularly engage in prosocial behavior that differs strikingly from that of even our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). In laboratory settings, chimpanzees are indifferent when given the opportunity to deliver valued rewards to conspecifics, while even very young human children have repeatedly been shown to behave prosocially. Although this broadly suggests that prosocial behavior in chimpanzees differs from that of young human children, the methods used in prior work with children have also differed from the methods used in studies of chimpanzees in potentially crucial ways. Here we test 92 pairs of 3-8-year-old children from urban American (Los Angeles, CA, USA) schools in a face-to-face task that closely parallels tasks used previously with chimpanzees. We found that children were more prosocial than chimpanzees have previously been in similar tasks, and our results suggest that this was driven more by a desire to provide benefits to others than a preference for egalitarian outcomes. We did not find consistent evidence that older children were more prosocial than younger children, implying that younger children behaved more prosocially in the current study than in previous studies in which participants were fully anonymous. These findings strongly suggest that humans are more prosocial than chimpanzees from an early age and that anonymity influences children's prosocial behavior, particularly at the youngest ages. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The sanctioning of norm-transgressors is a necessary-though often costly-task for maintaining a well-functioning society. Prior to effective and reliable secular institutions for punishment, large-scale societies depended on individuals engaging in 'altruistic punishment'-bearing the costs of punishment individually, for the benefit of society. Evolutionary approaches to religion suggest that beliefs in powerful, moralizing Gods, who can distribute rewards and punishments, emerged as a way to augment earthly punishment in large societies that could not effectively monitor norm violations. In five studies, we investigate whether such beliefs in God can replace people's motivation to engage in altruistic punishment, and their support for state-sponsored punishment. Results show that, although religiosity generally predicts higher levels of punishment, the specific belief in powerful, intervening Gods reduces altruistic punishment and support for state-sponsored punishment. Moreover, these effects are specifically owing to differences in people's perceptions that humans are responsible for punishing wrongdoers.
Reasoning about the evolution of our species' capacity for cumulative cultural learning has led culture gene coevolutionary (CGC) theorists to predict that humans should possess several learning biases which robustly enhance the fitness of cultural learners. Meanwhile, developmental psychologists have begun using experimental procedures to probe the learning biases that young children actually possess - a methodology ripe for testing CGC. Here we report the first direct tests in children of CGC's prediction of prestige bias, a tendency to learn from individuals to whom others have preferentially attended, learned or deferred. Our first study showed that the odds of 3- and 4-year-old children learning from an adult model to whom bystanders had previously preferentially attended for 10 seconds (the prestigious model) were over twice those of their learning from a model whom bystanders ignored. Moreover, this effect appears domain-sensitive: in Study 2 when bystanders preferentially observed a prestigious model using artifacts, she was learned from more often on subsequent artifact-use tasks (odds almost five times greater) but not on food-preference tasks, while the reverse was true of a model who received preferential bystander attention while expressing food preferences. (C) 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The target article misunderstands the research program it criticizes. The work of Boyd, Richerson, Fehr, Gintis, Bowles and their collaborators has long included the theoretical and empirical study of models both with and without diffuse costly punishment. In triaging the situation, we aim to (1) clarify the theoretical landscape, (2) highlight key points of agreement, and (3) suggest a more productive line of debate.
Over the past several decades, we have argued that cultural evolution can facilitate the evolution of large-scale cooperation because it often leads to more rapid adaptation than genetic evolution, and, when multiple stable equilibria exist, rapid adaptation leads to variation among groups. Recently, Lehmann, Feldman, and colleagues have published several papers questioning this argument. They analyze models showing that cultural evolution can actually reduce the range of conditions under which cooperation can evolve and interpret these models as indicating that we were wrong to conclude that culture facilitated the evolution of human cooperation. In the main, their models assume that rates of cultural adaption are not strong enough compared to migration to maintain persistent variation among groups when payoffs create multiple stable equilibria. We show that Lehmann et al. reach different conclusions because they have made different assumptions. We argue that the assumptions that underlie our models are more consistent with the empirical data on large-scale cultural variation in humans than those of Lehmann et al., and thus, our models provide a more plausible account of the cultural evolution of human cooperation in large groups.