Tag Archives: cooperation

Parochial cooperation in wild chimpanzees: A model to explain the evolution of parochial altruism

Lemoine, S. R. T., Samuni, L., Crockford, C., & Wittig, R. M. (2022). Parochial cooperation in wild chimpanzees: A model to explain the evolution of parochial altruism. In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Vol. 377, Issue 1851). Royal Society Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2021.0149

This is an exceptional paper. The authors define “parochial altruism” as taking individual costs to benefit the in-group and harm the out-group, and propose a model for the evolution of parochial altruism. The model applies to chimpanzees, but the idea is that this model might perhaps also explain how parochial altruism evolved in humans.

For this purpose, the authors review a vast number of papers in the field of cooperation and aggression in wild chimpanzees (and, to some extent, other animals) .

The model they propose is a complex one. It is relevant, for the issues we talk about in this blog, that the authors propose a positive feedback loop between aggressive encounters with external groups, on the one hand, and collaboration and cohesion within the group, on the other.

For example:

  • “In-group solidarity tends to increase in response to out-group conflict, suggesting a causal link between out-group threat and in-group cohesion” (p. 2).
  • “Evidence across taxa, including birds and mammals, demonstrate an immediate increase of in-group cohesion and affiliation following out-group threat, pointing towards the link between out-group conflicts and in-group favoritism” (p. 2).
  • “Cooperation is key in maximizing the chances of beneficial outcomes of out-group conflicts” (p. 5).
  • Group conflicts favor “the emergence and maintenance of cooperation among non-related individuals, the maintenance of strong social ties, in-group favoritism and hostility towards out-group members” (p. 7).
  • “The highly structured and collective border patrols and large coalitionary attacks observed in chimpanzees indeed suggest strong links between group-level cooperation and out-group threat” (p. 8).

All this is important and relevant for the origin of the state, as explained by my mentor, Juan Samaja. Individuals compete against each other (internal war), but the pressure of the external threats makes them unite against the common enemy (external war); this threat is one of the keys to the birth of the state, as already explained in Plato’s Republic.

Another interesting aspect is that the paper establishes a link between reciprocity and what we call “community”. “The accumulation of bonded relationships, embedded within a social network, provides a path by which group-level cooperation occurs. The hypothesis that direct reciprocity constitutes a mechanism enabling solving collective problems finds support in chimpanzees where regular social interactions within a community cement a sense of common belonging (a common affect), enabling group-level collective action and avoidance of defection” (p. 8). This of course works only for local groups and small-scale cooperation; large scale cooperation requires other normative and symbolic frameworks (a flag, a national narrative, etc.)

For those of you (readers) who follow my musings in this blog about the epistemological impact of social coordination, it is interesting to note that chimpanzees engage in border patrols, where they move along the edges of their territories to monitor and defend their boundaries. They check for signs of intruders, such as the scent of unfamiliar individuals or the sound of other chimpanzee groups in the area. If they detect signs of intrusion, they often engage in displays of aggression, such as vocalizing loudly, throwing rocks and branches, or charging at the perceived threat. Now, this behavior might be the oldest precursor of the cultural institution of “boundary”. This institution, incidentally, is the one that philosopher John Searle uses as an example to explain the very notion of “institutions” (differentiating a wall that encircles a village as a physical barrier that can’t be crossed from a symbolic stone that marks the limit of a village and shouldn’t be crossed). Once we humans learned how to play the game of boundaries on an institutional level, we started to demarcate boundaries on the epistemological level. Ancient Rhetoric is born as an exercise to argue for the property of land, to have the limits of one’s property recognized. In Plato’s Republic, the limits of the city are delineated hand in hand with the limits of the citizen (both are defined almost in the same way), as well as the boundaries of the concept (of the Good, for example). Even Kant’s transcendental deduction follows to the detail the format of a legal deductio aimed at demarcating the territory and the boundaries of a state (Kant applies this format to demarcate the limits… of pure reason).

Warneken: Young children share the spoils after collaboration

Warneken, F., Lohse, K., Melis, A. P., & Tomasello, M. (2011). Young children share the spoils after collaboration. Psychological Science, 22(2), 267–73. http://doi.org/10.1177/0956797610395392

Interesting paper.

1) The authors postulate that the relationship between joint collaboration and sharing is crucial for understanding the origins of equality, both in ontogeny and phylogeny. Therefore, they investigate how children actively divide rewards after working for them in a collaborative problem-solving task.

Most studies on sharing involve windfall situations, in which resources are given to the children by a third party, with no work or effort involved. Moreover, many studies use a forced-choice paradigm with predefined allocation options, which does not allow for an assessment of how children themselves would actively negotiate over how to distribute resources with another person.

In contrast, Warneken et al.’s research is guided by the notion that people often have to work toward obtaining resources, and that they distribute those resources actively, rather than choosing individually between predefined options. Previous studies, they say, have not shown how children share resources in situations that might be the cradle of equality: actual joint collaborative activities with a social partner.

2) The experiment closely resembles sharing experiments with chimpanzees and other non-human primates. Warneken et al test children in dyads. Children have to perform a task together: they have to pull from both ends of a rope at the same time in order to bring a box close to them. In this way, they are able to get a reward (such as stickers or candy that have been placed in the box). In one condition, the box has two holes far apart, so that each child can get her reward without interference from the other participant. In a second (“clumped”) condition, the box has only one hole, and therefore only one child can access the rewards at a time.

3) Warneken et al. found that neither the reward type nor the opportunity to monopolize rewards in the clumped condition interfered with the children’s collaboration. 3 year-olds collaborate successfully in situations in which resources can be monopolized. The collaborative abilities of young children, compared with those of chimpanzees, are not constrained to the same extent by a tendency to monopolize resources.

Children predominately produced equal shares. They shared rewards equally most of the time, even when rewards could be monopolized more easily (clumped condition). At an age when children are just beginning to skillfully collaborate with peers, they already engage in sharing behavior that results in equitable outcomes.

4) What does it all mean? Competition over resources, the authors claim, is mitigated in human children (when compared with chimpanzees and other primates) by an emerging sense of equal sharing of the spoils, which enables successful collaboration even early in ontogeny. Thus, the authors claim that this study supports a Tomasello-like evolutionary hypothesis, according to which the emergence of cooperation is due not only to cognitive and behavioral skills, but also to a reduction in competition over resources. Competition over resources is mitigated in human children by an emerging sense of equal sharing of the spoils, which enables successful collaboration even early in ontogeny.

5) According to this study, children are capable of equitable distributions a very early age. Although many studies place the origins of equality at around 5, 6 or even 7 years of age, it all depends on how the concrete distribution problem is presented to the children. Warneken et al. present children with a collaborative, non-competitive situation. In addition, in this study the peer is present; the dyad works together in a problem solving activity (compare this with economic games that are played by a single present individual and an absent, anonymous, “invisible”). Even more, some of the dyads comprise children who know each other well, since they attend the same day-care center (they are not one-shot interactions, as in most economic games). All this seems to help even 3 year-olds to produce equitable outcomes early in development. The authors reach the conclusion that, perhaps, children learn to acknowledge each other’s right to gain equal resources in situations in which they collaborate to produce a mutually beneficial outcome that one person acting alone would not be able to achieve (this result is not proven by the experiment, in my opinion).

Perret-Clermont on knowledge-oriented argumentation

Paper #2

We continue with another article by Perret-Clermont and her collaborators, in this case: Perret-Clermont, A. N., Breux, S., Greco, S., & Miserez Caperos, C. (2014): Children and knowledge-oriented argumentation. Some notes for future research. In Language, reason and education. Studies in honor of Eddo Rigotti. Bern: Peter Lang.

The authors of this paper claim that classical studies of children’s argumentation over-emphasize the internal, cognitive aspect of argumentation while underestimating the role of the social context. Psychological research tends to neglect the interpersonal and institutional context in which psychological processes such as argumentation take place.

Of course, as it is obvious for the followers of this blog, I agree with the previous claims. I believe, however, that the authors should offer a clarification of what they understand by “institutions” (they don’t define the term in the paper). They seem to refer to social organizations such as school, family or research team. They seem to be concerned especially with school context, because they suggest it should be possible to design pedagogical interventions that are informed by the theory of argumentation (i.e., create more democratic schools in which students exchange reasoning and opinions freely).

I prefer to give the term “institution” a broader meaning (based on Searle’s theory, as I’ve explained elsewhere). This broader use involves treating “promises”, “ownership”, “barter” and other social practices as “institutions” and thus allows us to see institutionally-rooted argumentation everywhere in the daily life of children (not only in school while engaged in learning activities).

One interesting distinction the authors draw (although not explicitly enough) is that between competitive or adversarial argumentation and knowledge-oriented argumentation. You can find examples of the former in arenas such as politics and litigation. Competitive argumentation aims at proving one party right and the other wrong for whatever means; it’s about destroying the other’s arguments while making one’s own point of view triumph. In this scenario, one never doubts one’s own point of view (the position one wants to defend is a fixed premise). In other words: in competitive or adversarial argumentation there’s no win-win situation; for one party to win the other must lose (zero-sum result). This might involve, in some cases, launching psychological warfare aimed at undermining the other party self-confidence or destroying her emotionally.

Knowledge-oriented argumentation, by way of contrast, is not concerned with defending a fixed position. Rather, it’s about collaborating with others in order to discover something. In knowledge-oriented argumentation, we all work as a team in order to explore all possible points of view about a given topic. Thus children as well as adults have moving standpoints when they are engaged in knowledge-oriented argumentation.

I’m still thinking about these different dimensions of argumentation. One can either compete or collaborate with one’s interlocutor. Competition can play out rationally (one plays by the rules and respects the adversary) or brutally (one wants to win whatever it takes). Collaboration can also play out rationally (we explore all possible points of view and reasons together) or irrationally (we don’t want to diverge from the rest of the group so we just assent to whatever reasons they present while suppressing our own point of view).