Biological and Experimental Perspectives on Self-Interest: Reciprocal Altruism and Genetic Egoism

  • Hannes RuschEmail author
  • Ulrich Frey


The question how the diverse forms of cooperative behavior in humans and nonhuman animals could have evolved under the pressure of natural selection has been a challenge for evolutionary biology ever since Darwin himself. In this chapter, we briefly review and summarize results from the last 50 years of research on human and nonhuman cooperativeness from a theoretical (biology) and an experimental perspective (experimental economics). The first section presents six concepts from theoretical biology able to explain a variety of forms of cooperativeness which evolved in many different species. These are kin selection, mutualism, reciprocity, green-beard altruism, costly signaling, and cultural group selection. These considerations are complemented by two short examples of evolved cooperative behavior, one from microbiology and one from ethology. The second main section focuses on recent experimental research on human cooperativeness. We present a brief review of factors known to impact individual human decision-making in social dilemmas, most prominently communication, punishment, reputation, and assortment. Our conclusion then draws attention to tasks for further research in this area.


Cooperation Evolution Altruism Egoism Biology Experimental economics Game theory Reciprocity Mutualism 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Philosophy and the Foundations of ScienceJustus-Liebig-University GiessenGiessenGermany
  2. 2.Peter Löscher Chair of Business EthicsMunichGermany

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