Urban Civility: City Dwellers Are Not Less Prososcial Than Their Rural Counterparts

  • Cyril C. GrueterEmail author
  • Grace Westlake
  • David Coall
Research Article


Urban living is often thought to promote incivility, but the existing sociological evidence paints a mixed picture. We aimed to examine the urban incivility phenomenon from an evolutionist’s perspective. Small communities are expected to show a higher incidence of helping because the applicability of theories such as kin selection, direct reciprocity and indirect reciprocity to acts of cooperative behaviour is augmented in small-scale demographic settings. Smaller communities have a reduced total pool of individuals to interact with, increasing the likelihood of encountering any given individual multiple times. This makes it easier for individuals to form cooperative relationships with one another, which may facilitate prosociality within smaller communities. Using the lost letter technique, our results show that city dwelling, compared with rural residence, per se does not negatively influence prosociality. This contradicts the expected erosion of cooperative behaviour in anonymous cities and adds to our understanding of the interplay between human macroecology and individual behavioural tendencies.


Cooperation Prosociality Lost letter experiment Urban incivility 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethics was granted by the Human Research Ethics Community in accordance with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (National Health and Medical Research Council 2015; reference number RA/4/1/8257).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

40806_2019_206_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 30 kb)
40806_2019_206_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (28 kb)
Table S2 (XLSX 27 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cyril C. Grueter
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Grace Westlake
    • 1
  • David Coall
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Human SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  3. 3.School of Medical and Health SciencesEdith Cowan UniversityJoondalupAustralia
  4. 4.School of MedicineUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia

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