The Elements of Evolution (69) Cooperation


Complex social organization builds on the emergence and maintenance of cooperation. ~ German cognitive ethologist Julia Fischer

Although avarice and lust for power by men propelled exploitation on a grand scale, it was cooperation, not competition, which permitted human civilization to blossom. An ample measure of collaboration was essential in building the empires of early civilizations. Without cooperation, humans would have never emerged from the Stone Age. They may not have even got that far.

Spontaneous, altruistic behavior is exclusively found among species where the young are not only cared for by the mother, but also other group members such as siblings, fathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles. ~ Swiss anthropologist Judith Maria Burkart

The family of New World monkeys known as callitrichids – marmosets and tamarins – cooperatively care for their young. Alloparenting is by no means confined to primates. Meerkats cooperate to rear their young. As seen in the tropical rainforest, even some spiders practice protective alloparenting.

The adoption of cooperative breeding by our hominin ancestors provides the most parsimonious explanation for the origin of human hyper-cooperation. ~ Judith Burkart et al

For hominids, cooperation as a social norm required comity among adult males.

Our ability to effectively collaborate with others is largely responsible for what our species came to be. ~ Sergey Gavrilets

Hominids were not the first instance of male-male cooperation in simians that afforded development of complex multilevel societies. Guinea baboons are the only species of baboon where males are tolerant and cooperative toward same-sex conspecifics, even those that are not related. Physical traits associated with sexual competition, including the size of canine teeth and testicles, are smaller in male Guinea baboons than in other baboons. Male Guinea baboons have less rivalry and are less aggressive toward females. Males actively contribute to the cohesion of their multilevel society, as contrasted to the energetic efforts by males in other baboon species in maintaining dominance hierarchies.

If prehistoric people began living closer together and passing down new technologies, they’d have to be tolerant of each other. The key to our success is the ability to cooperate and get along and learn from one another. ~ American biologist Robert Cieri

Modern humans appear in the fossil record ~300 TYA but it was only 50 TYA that saw an upsurge in art production, technological innovation, and cultural exchange. Contemporaneous with the upswing in culture human testosterone levels declined. Facial structure reflected the change. A heavy brow and larger upper face were replaced by a less prominent browline and rounder face.

A similar transition happened with aggressive chimpanzees and their peaceable descendants: bonobos. These 2 apes have distinct developmental paths, and they respond to social stress differently. Male chimpanzees experience a strong rise in testosterone during puberty. Bonobos do not.

When stressed, the bonobos do not produce more testosterone as chimps do. Instead, bonobos produce more cortisol, the stress hormone. Chimpanzee and bonobo faces differ.

It’s very hard to find a brow-ridge in a bonobo. ~ American evolutionary anthropologist Brian Hare

Though bonobos are humankind’s closest ape relative (not chimpanzees, as long thought), men are no peaceful bonobos; quite the contrary. Advances in hominin cooperative sociality doubtlessly owe to the leavening influence of females, with their superior social skills and relative sense of harmony.

It was women, not men, that were key to human social advance. The shift from male-dominated, female-dispersal groups to pair-bonding and greater sexual egalitarianism provided the context for expanded social networks and alliances among unrelated individuals. The transformative context was female interaction that fostered social stability, collaboration, and cumulative culture. Men went along with what their women persuaded them was advantageous: teamwork.

There is a dissonant irony in hominin sociality that remains on display to this day. Men somewhat reluctantly cooperate, doing so only when self-interests coincide or within the context of a dominance hierarchy. All social coalitions involving men have a pecking order. Male-dominated inter-group tension is a norm, tempered only by power assessment and fear of material or social status loss.

Lethal raids by competing groups were part of life for hunter-gatherer communities. ~ Argentinian paleoanthropologist Marta Mirazón Lahr

The self-conflicting gyre of conflict/cooperation reflects the evolution of human sociality. The social bonds of tribes and dominance regimes of early humans were forged by war: one group pitting itself another for spoils, including fertile females.

Effective defense against marauders demanded collaborative efforts, so they emerged. The strongest bonding experience for men is facing combat together.

Collaborative ability is more likely to evolve first by between-group conflicts and then later be used against Nature. ~ Sergey Gavrilets