The Echoes of the Mind – Cooperation


Male relationships in most species of mammals generally are characterized by intense intrasexual competition, with little bonding among unrelated individuals. In contrast, human societies are characterized by high levels of cooperation and strong bonds among both related and unrelated males. ~ German cognitive ethologist Annika Patzelt

The evolutionary advance that permitted the complexity which characterizes human societies came with reduced aggression between males. Male-male bonding developed in hominids millions of years ago. It had an antecedent basis in other primates, though not apes, which are man’s closest cousins. No male ape is inclined to cooperate with a conspecific stranger. Male chimpanzees are positively intolerant of other males that they did not grow up with.

There are some simian species with more cordial males. Unrelated male macaques form friendships that improve their social standing and their prospects for reproductive success. Ever clever capuchin monkeys understand the value of cooperation.

Male baboons typically have rigid dominance hierarchies in their societies. Relations between adult males are often antagonistic, but there is an exception among baboons. Adult male Guinea baboons are quite tolerant of one another. Their willingness to cooperate affords a social complexity lacking in other baboons. Unlike other baboons, male Guineans actively contribute to the cohesion of their multilevel society.

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Humans are innately more selfish than selfless. Yet also within human nature are capacities for empathy and morality, which provide the springboard to cooperation.

In the first year of life, infants exhibit empathy toward others in distress. Human nature supports both pro-social and selfish traits. ~ Israeli psychologist Ariel Knafo

In their 4th year children demonstrate understanding of reciprocity: they are typically generous toward those who are generous to others, while recognizing and responding accordingly to those who appear selfish.

People are relatively influenced more by reciprocity than conformity when deciding to cooperate with others. ~ Italian psychologist Angelo Romano

The human readiness to cooperate, our selectivity in who we cooperate with, and our tendency to respond negatively when we are cheated, form an efficient package to forge and maintain strongly cooperative relationships. The human tendencies to care about how a person treats others and to protest bad treatment are not simply a thin veneer of cultural norms atop a cold and calculating core. Rather, they represent fundamental features of a universal human social nature. ~ American evolutionary psychologist Max Krasnow

Animals, especially humans, are far more cooperative than game theory has predicted. ~ American mathematician Mike Mesterton-Gibbons

As with other organisms, from microbes on out, any inclination toward cooperation is tempered by a sense of fairness. Aversion to inequity in children develops around the same age as comprehension of the principles of reciprocal altruism. By age 8 children begin to feel uncomfortable if treated more generously than other children.

Specific principles governing complex, mature, cooperative networks emerge early in childhood. ~ American psychologists Kristina Olson & Elizabeth Spelke

In the context of altruism, empathy and ethics embrace an irony. While these principles form the basis for cooperation, they adaptively evolved to benefit the individual that practices them.

Gratitude is merely the secret hope of further favors. ~ François de La Rochefoucauld

Empathy allows an individual to comprehend another person’s emotions and motivations that may be different from their own, thus providing bargaining power. Morality provides a basis for assessing fairness, thus enabling a sense of equity that is essential in avoiding loss through exchanges.

Social acclimation, such as healthy familial upbringing, leads to cooperation internalized as the proper way to behave. When incentives like reputation and tribal sanctions are removed, the natural response is to keep behaving normally, which, for those well-bred, is cooperatively.

In the context of operating with strangers, reflection leads individuals to a different conclusion: that we can be selfish and get away with it. Cooperation breaks down when group bonds weaken, and individuals must fend for themselves. Most crime can be traced to living in a society where selfishness is the accepted norm.

Leadership can be an essential ingredient in maintaining cooperation in a group. The connection is symmetrical, in that a leader’s status is vested in the success of the group.

People perform greater within-group cooperation when their groups face external threats. High-ranking group members manipulate this “threat-dependent” cooperation by exaggerating threats in order to promote cooperation and suppress competition for their position. ~ American psychologist Pat Barclay & American sociologist Stephen Benard

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, the ruling party perpetuates apparent war to create solidarity and support for party leadership. This political ploy – a call to tribalism – is often used by demagogues to shore up support.

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The socialization process of youngsters largely determines the degree to which the values of cooperation and altruism are incorporated into everyday life. Early life experiences have a lasting influence on willingness to cooperate and share. Competition inculcated as a moral value breeds selfishness.

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