Altruistic cooperation during foraging by the Ache, and the evolved human predisposition to cooperate

Abstract

This paper presents quantitative data on altruistic cooperation during food acquisition by Ache foragers. Cooperative activities are defined as those that entail a cost of time and energy to the donor but primarily lead to an increase in the foraging success of the recipient. Data show that Ache men and women spend about 10% of all foraging time engaged in altruistic cooperation on average, and that on some days they may spend more than 50% of their foraging time in such activities. The most time-consuming cooperative activity for both sexes is helping during the pursuit of game animals, a pattern that is probably linked to the widespread sharing of game by Ache foragers. Cooperative food acquisition and subsequent food redistribution in hunter-gatherer societies are critical behaviors that probably helped shape universal, evolved, cooperative tendencies that are well illustrated in modern experimental economics.

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Correspondence to Kim Hill.

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This paper was originally presented at a Max Planck symposium on cooperation in Leipzig in June 1999. This work was partially funded by a grant from the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation and NSF grant BNS 9727656.

Kim Hill is a professor of anthropology in the Human Evolutionary Ecology (HEE) program at the University of New Mexico. His primary research interests include hunter-gatherer behavioral ecology, life history theory, food acquisition strategies, food sharing, cooperation, and biodiversity conservation in lowland South America. He has done fieldwork with Nahautl, Ache, Guarani, Hiwi, Mashco Piro, Matsiguenga, and Yora indigenous peoples of Central and South America.

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Hill, K. Altruistic cooperation during foraging by the Ache, and the evolved human predisposition to cooperate. Hum Nat 13, 105–128 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-002-1016-3

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Key words

  • Ache
  • Altruism
  • Cooperation
  • Food acquisition
  • Foraging
  • Hunter-gatherers
  • Sexual division of labor