Humans are much more inclined to cooperate than are their closest evolutionary relatives. The prevailing wisdom about why this is true has long been focused on the idea of altruism: we go out of our way to do nice things for other people, sometimes even sacrificing personal success for the good of others. Modern theories of cooperative behavior suggest that acting selflessly in the moment provides a selective advantage to the altruist in the form of some kind of return benefit.
A new study published by Current Anthropology offers another explanation for our unusual aptitude for collaboration. The authors of the study argue that humans developed cooperative skills because it was in their mutual interest to work well with others — indeed ecological circumstances forced them to cooperate with others to obtain food. In other words, altruism isn’t the reason we cooperate; we must cooperate in order to survive, and we are altruistic to others because we need them.
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