Introduction: Cooperation and Altruism

  • Robert W. Sussman
  • C. Robert Cloninger
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR, volume 36)


This book is about the evolution and nature of cooperation and “altruism” in social-living animals, focusing especially on nonhuman primates and on humans. Although cooperation and altruism are often thought to be simply remedies to competition and aggression within groups or related to the action of “selfish genes,” there is increasing evidence that these behaviors are the result of biological mechanisms that have developed through natural selection in group-living species. This evidence leads to the conclusion that cooperative and altruistic behaviors are not just by-products of competition but rather they are essential ingredients in evolution, ecology, and development (Weiss and Buchanan, 2009) and are the glue that underlies the ability for primates and humans to live in groups. The paleontological, behavioral, neurobiological, and psychological evidence provided in this book gives a more optimistic and realistic view of human nature than the more popular, conventional view of humans being naturally and basically aggressive and warlike. Competition and aggressive self-preservation are definite parts of the behavioral repertoire of all mammals, but they are primitive tendencies that are progressively regulated by higher cognitive processes increasing the capacity for cooperation, which emerged in a stepwise fashion in the evolution of nonhuman primates and human beings from their common ancestors. The evidence described in this book from many fields indicates that cooperation and altruism are the statistical norm and represent the more typical, “normal,” and healthy behavioral pattern in primates. In fact, cooperative sociality is a necessity for well-being in anthropoid primates.


Nonhuman Primate Cooperative Behavior Early Human Altruistic Behavior Transdisciplinary Research 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryCenter for Psychobiology of Personality, Washington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA

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