Evolving the psychological mechanisms for cooperation

Jeffrey R. Stevens, Fiery A. Cushman, Marc D. Hauser

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

159 Scopus citations


Cooperation is common across nonhuman animal taxa, from the hunting of large game in lions to the harvesting of building materials in ants. Theorists have proposed a number of models to explain the evolution of cooperative behavior. These ultimate explanations, however, rarely consider the proximate constraints on the implementation of cooperative behavior. Here we review several types of cooperation and propose a suite of cognitive abilities required for each type to evolve. We propose that several types of cooperation, though theoretically possible and functionally adaptive, have not evolved in some animal species because of cognitive constraints. We argue, therefore, that future modeling efforts and experimental investigations into the adaptive function of cooperation in animals must be grounded in a realistic assessment of the psychological ingredients required for cooperation. Such an approach can account for the puzzling distribution of cooperative behaviors across taxa, especially the seemingly unique occurrence of cooperation observed in our own species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)499-518
Number of pages20
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruism
  • Individual recognition
  • Memory
  • Mutualism
  • Temporal discounting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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