The Evolution of Altruism in Humans (2014)

The Evolution of Altruism in Humans.
Annu Rev Psychol. 2014 Jul 25.
Kurzban R, Burton-Chellew MN, West SA.

Humans are an intensely social species, frequently performing costly behaviors that benefit others.
Efforts to solve the evolutionary puzzle of altruism have a lengthy history, and recent years have seen many important advances across a range of disciplines.

Here we bring together this interdisciplinary body of research and review the main theories that have been proposed to explain human prosociality, with an emphasis on kinship, reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, punishment, and morality.

We highlight recent methodological advances that are stimulating research and point to some areas that either remain controversial or merit more attention.

How to Live: A Search for Wisdom

Book Distills The Wisdom Of The Over-70 Set
Talk of the Nation. January 01, 2009

Henry Alford interviews people over the age of 70. “How to Live: A Search for Wisdom From Old People”

A clever person solves a problem; a wise person avoids it. That’s Albert Einstein’s definition of wisdom.

Mr. ALFORD: Yeah. The three biggies for me are doubt, reciprocity and nonattachment:

  • Doubt being this idea that, you know, you can say if A happens and B happens, then usually C will happen. However, there’s always a chance that a grand piano will come crashing down on our heads.
    there’s always wiggle room.
  • Nonattachment is this idea that you shouldn’t fixate on things.
  • Reciprocity, of course, is the “do unto others” kind of thinking.

Trust in God but tie your camel.

The neurobiology of punishment

Neurobiological substrates of punishment.

The neurobiology of punishment
Nature Reviews Neuroscience 8, 300-311 (April 2007)
Ben Seymour, Tania Singer & Ray Dolan

Animals, in particular humans, frequently punish other individuals who behave negatively or uncooperatively towards them.
In animals, this usually serves to protect the personal interests of the individual concerned, and its kin.
However, humans also punish altruistically, in which the act of punishing is personally costly.
The propensity to do so has been proposed to reflect the cultural acquisition of norms of behaviour, which incorporates the desire to uphold equity and fairness, and promotes cooperation.

Here, we review the proximate neurobiological basis of punishment, considering the motivational processes that underlie punishing actions.

The nature of human altruism

Responders’ acceptance thresholds in the ultimatum game with and without reputation opportunities.

The nature of human altruism
Nature 425, 785-791 (23 October 2003)
Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher

Some of the most fundamental questions concerning our evolutionary origins, our social relations, and the organization of society are centred around issues of altruism and selfishness.
Experimental evidence indicates that human altruism is a powerful force and is unique in the animal world.
However, there is much individual heterogeneity and the interaction between altruists and selfish individuals is vital to human cooperation.
Depending on the environment, a minority of altruists can force a majority of selfish individuals to cooperate or, conversely, a few egoists can induce a large number of altruists to defect.

Current gene-based evolutionary theories cannot explain important patterns of human altruism, pointing towards the importance of both theories of cultural evolution as well as gene–culture co-evolution.

Problems with indirect reciprocity

Two problems with indirect reciprocity. B has defected in previous rounds and therefore has a low reputation.

Evolution of indirect reciprocity
Nature, 27 October 2005, 437, 1291-1298
Martin A. Nowak & Karl Sigmund

Natural selection is conventionally assumed to favour the strong and selfish who maximize their own resources at the expense of others. But many biological systems, and especially human societies, are organized around altruistic, cooperative interactions.
How can natural selection promote unselfish behaviour?
Various mechanisms have been proposed, and a rich analysis of indirect reciprocity has recently emerged: I help you and somebody else helps me.
The evolution of cooperation by indirect reciprocity leads to reputation building, morality judgement and complex social interactions with ever-increasing cognitive demands.

see also:
Game theory: How to treat those of ill repute
Nature 457, 39-40(1 January 2009
Bettina Rockenbach & Manfred Milinski


No Mercy For Robots: Experiment Tests How Humans Relate To Machines

No Mercy For Robots: Experiment Tests How Humans Relate To Machines
January 28, 2013

rule of reciprocity

Milgram obedience study

“Every culture has a rule of reciprocity, which roughly means, if I do something nice for you, you will do something nice for me,” Stanford professor Clifford Nass says.

What the study demonstrated was that people do in fact obey the rule of reciprocity when it comes to computers. When the first computer was helpful to people, they helped it way more on the boring task than the other computer in the room. They reciprocated.

Christoph Bartneck

Clifford I. Nass