A contemporary look at the concept of mutual aid?

Steve Rothman

Just in time to coincide with our book discussion! - a brand new paper by Joseph Henrich and Michael Muthukrishna (Harvard and LSE, respectively) called "The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation.”

Abstract and first paragraph:

Illuminating the puzzle of our species’ ultrasociality requires not only explaining the breadth and
intensity of human cooperation but also why it varies across societies, over history and among
behavioral domains (within societies). To address these patterns, we introduce an evolutionary
approach that considers how genetic and cultural evolution, as well as their interaction, may have
shaped both the reliably developing features of our minds and the well-documented differences in
cultural psychologies around the globe. We review the major evolutionary mechanisms that have
been proposed to explain human cooperation, including kinship, reciprocity (partner choice),
reputation, signaling and punishment, discuss key culture-gene coevolutionary hypotheses, such as
those surrounding self-domestication and norm psychology, and consider the role of religions,
rituals and marriage systems. Empirically, we bring together diverse experimental, observational, and
anthropological evidence from studies of children and adults from diverse societies as well as from
non-human primates.

The origins and nature of our species’ cooperative psychology and prosocial behavior has been a
major scientific challenge since at least the time of Darwin. Recently, however, progress on this
question has accelerated with the rise of a highly interdisciplinary version of evolutionary
psychology, one that takes seriously our status as the “third chimpanzee” (Diamond 2006), but also
recognizes that humans have become a uniquely cultural species. Here we chart progress in this
endeavor with the aim of directing ongoing research, clarifying key debates, and connecting
psychology to the broader scientific exploration of cooperation.

I’ve just skimmed the paper, but I’ve read Henrich’s two books and think he’s quite interesting. He’s the chair of Harvard’s "Human and Evolutionary Biology" Department.