Re: Trivers' Reciprocal Altruism

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sat Nov 08 1997 - 14:22:28 GMT

On Fri, 31 Oct 1997, ben payne wrote:

> Natural selection
> has "taught" these species how this exchange of behaviour is best for
> them, showing that ultimately, it is the individuals interests that
> determine such altruistic behaviours.

[I'm sure i don't need to remind any of you that "taught" of course
means chance differences in helping tendency (a mutation that made its
vehicle SLIGHTLY more helpul to non-kin -- perhaps by blurring the
distinction between kin and non-kin) would for some reason help its
vehicle survive and reproduce, etc.

> Human reciprocal altruism is seen to be a highly complex behavioural
> concept. The idea of cheating is discussed, adding further
> considerations to the ways in which we can most benefit ourselves at a
> "calculated" cost to us. Non-reciprocation, where acts of charity from
> others are not repaid, does not help the individual, as it leads to a
> rejection from others in the form of aggression, loss of trust and the
> break up of altruistic relationships, which all have no long term
> benefit to the non-reciprocator ("cheater").

In other words, nonreciprocation in such a gene pool would not be an ESS
and could not invade a strategy of reciprocal altruism.

> The detection of such cheating and the undelyiong emotions (guilt,
> sympathy, gratitude and aggression) that are experienced in altruistic
> relations, have according to Trivers , have all been selected for to
> form the basis of human behaviour that encourages optimum success in
> the passing on of genes, which can be adapted to fit in with the
> surrounding environmental and individual determining factors.

Well, ALL emotions are, like our fondness for the feeling of eating
sugar, of evolutionary origin. We have them because having them
was beneficial in the EEA.

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