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Group Competition, Reproductive Leveling, and the Evolution of Human Altruism

Samuel Bowles
Science
New Series, Vol. 314, No. 5805 (Dec. 8, 2006), pp. 1569-1572
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20032981
Page Count: 4
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Group Competition, Reproductive Leveling, and the Evolution of Human Altruism
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Abstract

Humans behave altruistically in natural settings and experiments. A possible explanation--that groups with more altruists survive when groups compete--has long been judged untenable on empirical grounds for most species. But there have been no empirical tests of this explanation for humans. My empirical estimates show that genetic differences between early human groups are likely to have been great enough so that lethal intergroup competition could account for the evolution of altruism. Crucial to this process were distinctive human practices such as sharing food beyond the immediate family, monogamy, and other forms of reproductive leveling. These culturally transmitted practices presuppose advanced cognitive and linguistic capacities, possibly accounting for the distinctive forms of altruism found in our species.

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