Jan. 22, 2013 — The kindness of humankind most likely devel oped from our more sin is ter and self-serving ten den cies, according to Prince ton Uni ver sity and Uni ver sity of Ari zona research that sug gests society’s rules against selfish ness are rooted in the very exploita tion they condemn.
The report in the jour nal Evo lu tionpro poses that altru ism — society’s pro tec tion of resources and the collec tive good by pun ish ing “cheaters” — did not develop as a reac tion to avarice. Instead, com mu nal disavowal of greed orig i nated when com pet ing self ish indi vid u als sought to con trol and can cel out one another. Over time, the direct efforts of the dom i nant fat cats to con tain a few com peti tors evolved into a community-wide desire to guard its own well-being.
The study authors pro pose that a sys tem of greed dom i nat ing greed was sim ply eas ier for our human ances tors to man age. In this way, the work chal lenges dom i nant the ories that self ish and altru is tic social arrange ments formed inde pen dently — instead the two struc tures stand as evo lu tion ary phases of group interac tion, the researchers write.
Sec ond author Andrew Gallup, a former Prince ton post doc toral researcher in ecol ogy and evo lu tionary biol ogy now a vis it ing assis tant pro fes sor of psy chol ogy at Bard College, worked with first author Omar Eldakar, a for mer Ari zona post doctoral fel low now a vis it ing assis tant pro fes sor of biol ogy at Ober lin College, and William Driscoll, an ecology and evo lu tion ary biol ogy doctoral stu dent at Arizona.
To test their hypoth e sis, the researchers con structed a sim u lation model that gauged how a com mu nity with stands a sys tem built on altru is tic pun ish ment, or selfish-on-selfish pun ishment. The authors found that altru ism demands a lot of ini tial expen di ture for the group — in terms of com mu nal time, resources and risk of reprisal from the pun ished — as well as advanced lev els of cog ni tion and cooperation.
On the other hand, a con struct in which a few prof li gate players keep like-minded indi vid u als in check involves only those mem bers of the com mu nity — every one else can pas sively enjoy the ben e fits of fewer peo ple tak ing more than their share. At the same time, the reign ing indi vid u als enjoy uncontested spoils and, in some cases, reverence.
Social orders main tained by those who bend the rules play out in nature and human his tory, the authors note: Tree wasps that police hives to make sure that no mem ber other than the queen lays eggs will often lay illicit eggs them selves. Can cer cells will pre vent other tumors from form ing. Medieval knights would pil lage the same civil ians they read ily defended from invaders, while neigh bor hoods ruled by the Ital ian Mafia tra dition ally had the low est lev els of crime.
What comes from these arrange ments, the researchers conclude, is a sense of order and equal ity that the group even tually takes upon itself to enforce, thus giv ing rise to altruism.
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- Omar Tonsi Eldakar, Andrew C. Gallup, William Wallace Driscoll. When Hawks Give Rise To Doves: The Evo lution and Tran si tion of Enforce ment Strate gies.Evolution, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/evo.12031