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Title: The resurrection of group selection as a theory of human cooperation
Authors: Price, M
Keywords: Evolution of cooperation;Altruism;Strong reciprocity;Experimental economics
Issue Date: 2008
Publisher: Springer
Citation: Social Justice Research. 21(2): 228-240
Abstract: Two books edited by members of the MacArthur Norms and Preferences Network (an interdisciplinary group, mainly anthropologists and economists) are reviewed here. These books in large part reflect a renewed interest in group selection that has occurred among these researchers: they promote the theory that human cooperative behavior evolved via selective processes which favored biological and/or cultural group-level adaptations as opposed to individual-level adaptations. In support of this theory, an impressive collection of cross-cultural data are presented which suggest that participants in experimental economic games often do not behave as self-interested income maximizers; this lack of self-interest is regarded as evidence of group selection. In this review, problems with these data and with the theory are discussed. On the data side, it is argued that even if a behavior seems individually-maladaptive in a game context, there is no reason to believe that it would have been that way in ancestral contexts, since the environments of experimental games do not at all resemble those in which ancestral humans would have interacted cooperatively. And on the theory side, it is argued that it is premature to invoke group selection in order to explain human cooperation, because more parsimonious individual-level theories have not yet been exhausted. In summary, these books represent ambitious interdisciplinary contributions on an important topic, and they include unique and useful data; however, they do not make a convincing case that the evolution of human cooperation required group selection.
Appears in Collections:Psychology
Dept of Life Sciences Research Papers

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