The Evolution of a Cooperative Social Mind

Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth

in The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199738182
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

The Evolution of a Cooperative Social Mind


It has long been hypothesized that the demands of establishing and maintaining social relationships in complex societies place strong selective pressures on cognition and intelligence. What has been less clear until recently is whether these relationships, and the skills they require, confer any reproductive benefits, and whether such benefits vary across individuals. During the last few years, much progress has been made in resolving some of these questions. There is now evidence from a variety of species that animals are motivated to establish close, long-term bonds with specific partners, and that these bonds enhance offspring survival and longevity. The cognitive and emotional mechanisms underlying cooperation, however, are still not understood. It remains unclear, for example, whether animals keep track of favors given and received, and whether they rely on memory of past cooperative acts when anticipating future ones. Although most investigations with captive primates have indicated that cooperation is seldom contingency based, several experiments conducted under more natural conditions suggest that animals do take into account recent interactions when supporting others. Moreover, although interactions within dyads are often unbalanced over short periods of time, pairs with strong bonds have strongly reciprocal interactions over extended time periods. These results suggest that the apparent rarity of contingent cooperation in animals may not stem from cognitive constraints. Instead, animals may tolerate short-term inequities in favors given and received, because most cooperation occurs among long-term reciprocating partners.

Keywords: cooperation; contingent cooperation; reproductive success; social relationships; social cognition; nonhuman primates

Article.  17142 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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