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Journal Article

Two Key Steps in the Evolution of Human Cooperation: The Interdependence Hypothesis

Michael Tomasello, Alicia P. Melis, Claudio Tennie, Emily Wyman and Esther Herrmann
Current Anthropology
Vol. 53, No. 6 (December 2012), pp. 673-692
DOI: 10.1086/668207
Stable URL:
Page Count: 20
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Modern theories of the evolution of human cooperation focus mainly on altruism. In contrast, we propose that humans’ species-unique forms of cooperation—as well as their species-unique forms of cognition, communication, and social life—all derive from mutualistic collaboration (with social selection against cheaters). In a first step, humans became obligate collaborative foragers such that individuals were interdependent with one another and so had a direct interest in the well-being of their partners. In this context, they evolved new skills and motivations for collaboration not possessed by other great apes (joint intentionality), and they helped their potential partners (and avoided cheaters). In a second step, these new collaborative skills and motivations were scaled up to group life in general, as modern humans faced competition from other groups. As part of this new group-mindedness, they created cultural conventions, norms, and institutions (all characterized by collective intentionality), with knowledge of a specific set of these marking individuals as members of a particular cultural group. Human cognition and sociality thus became ever more collaborative and altruistic as human individuals became ever more interdependent.

Notes and References

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