It’s Cooperation that Makes Us Human

According to new research, humans have an ability not shared by other species:  cooperation.  Although other species can cooperate, none do so with the reliability and at the scale that humans do.  It is true that Bonobo chimpanzees are more tolerant and sharing than standard chimpanzees, but Bonobos actually prefer to ally themselves with others who exhibit power or social dominance.  It seems that their proclivity for cooperation is selective.

In their study, researchers showed Bonobos

displays in which one actor behaved prosocially and another behaved antisocially toward a third party in one context. Then we allowed bonobos to choose between the actors in a completely unrelated context.  In three experiments, adult bonobos spontaneously chose an agent that hindered another individual over one that helped. In contrast, by 3 months of age, human infants already show the opposite preference in related paradigms.

This consistent preference of humans for helpers over hinderers is unique among animals.  Our prosocial preferences may have played a central role in the evolution of human development and cooperation.

This is illustrated in many stories collected from present-day hunter-gatherer groups.  These ancient stories, still told today, help to ensure cooperation in simpler societies, a necessary trait for the well-being of the tribe.

We have been cooperating for millennia now, but just within our homogenous groups of family, town, or nation.  Our new task is to expand our cooperation to include the planet.  The European Union is moving toward excluding the United States from any trade deals because the United States will not cooperate with the rest of the world on climate protection.  With the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement, this sort of necessary cooperation is set aside by the US, endangering everyone else.  It is only right and just that the US should be excluded if they have been unable to learn the ancient lesson of cooperation.


Copyright © 2018 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.