Born to Cooperate? Altruism as Exaptation and the Evolution of Human Sociality

Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR, volume 36)


In recent papers (e.g. Wilson and Wilson, 2007), it has been confirmed that the two standard solutions for the apparent paradox of the evolution of altruism and pro-social behaviours – ‘kin selection’, which leaves unsolved the question of population structure, and ‘group selection’ – can indeed be consistent with one other. The result is a possible explanation of the ambiguity between deeply entrenched attitudes to cooperation inside social groups and organized hostility among them (Bowles, 2008). Nevertheless, these models seem to undervalue the potential effects of ‘multilevel’ evolution and both notions remain strongly engaged with gene-centred interpretations of evolutionary dynamics – which lose their explanatory power when applied to group-living species that show unconditioned forms of altruism and pro-social feeling, especially when cultural evolution enters the process. In order to avoid ‘cultural discontinuity’ hypotheses at the other extreme, I emphasize the importance of ‘functional cooptation’, or ‘exaptation’ (Gould and Vrba, 1982; Gould, 2002) in arriving at a more satisfying explanation of the origins of free or reciprocal unselfishness, in group-living animals and in culture-bearing species.


Natural Selection Group Selection Evolutionary Psychology Inclusive Fitness Evolutionary Explanation 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human SciencesUniversity of Milan IIMilanItaly

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