Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Reciprocal Altruism and Cooperation for Mutual Benefit

  • Kirsten BohnEmail author
  • Gerald CarterEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1207-1



Cooperation is a behavior that is adaptive because it provides a benefit to another individual. Reciprocal altruism, or reciprocity, is cooperation that is conditional on receiving help from the recipient.


How can “helpful” traits evolve when natural selection rewards selfish replicators? Generally speaking, the answer is through mutual benefit. If genes for a cooperative or “nice” behavior reduced reproduction of the individuals bearing them, those genes would eventually disappear. Thus, for cooperative behaviors to exist, cooperative genes must persist through direct fitness benefits to the individual cooperators or through indirect fitness benefits via relatives of the cooperator who share copies of those genes. Given this, cooperative traits can be explained by asking the question: how does a cooperators genes benefit from its actions? Below is an outline of the ways in which benefits arise from...

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstitutePanama CityPanama