Focus |

Focus on Cooperation

Cooperation has been the key to success for many of Earth's species, from microbiota to humans. Despite the centrality of cooperation to so many liveways, there is still a great deal to be understood about its evolution and how and when it succeeds and fails. This collection pulls together content from the Nature Human Behaviour Focus issue on Cooperation - including insights from anthropology, evolutionary biology, human behavioural ecology, economics, neuroscience, psychology, ethology, and environmental studies - and from the archive of Nature Ecology & Evolution, to understand the state of knowledge on cooperation and highlight future research directions. 


  • Nature Human Behaviour | Editorial

    Human beings are a social species that relies on cooperation to survive and thrive. Understanding how and why cooperation succeeds or fails is integral to solving the many global challenges we face.


  • Nature Human Behaviour | Letter

    Through mathematical analysis, simulations and examples from real-world social networks, Fotouhi et al. demonstrate how establishing sparse interconnections between previously segregated, uncooperative societies can support the evolution of cooperation globally.

    • Babak Fotouhi
    • , Naghmeh Momeni
    • , Benjamin Allen
    •  &  Martin A. Nowak
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Article

    Division of labour is common in social groups from microbes to animals. Here, the authors show that natural selection favours extreme specialization, suggesting that division of labour may drive major evolutionary transitions.

    • Guy A. Cooper
    •  &  Stuart A. West
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Article | open

    Eusociality evolved independently in Hymenoptera and in termites. Here, the authors sequence genomes of the German cockroach and a drywood termite and provide insights into the evolutionary signatures of termite eusociality.

    • Mark C. Harrison
    • , Evelien Jongepier
    • , Hugh M. Robertson
    • , Nicolas Arning
    • , Tristan Bitard-Feildel
    • , Hsu Chao
    • , Christopher P. Childers
    • , Huyen Dinh
    • , Harshavardhan Doddapaneni
    • , Shannon Dugan
    • , Johannes Gowin
    • , Carolin Greiner
    • , Yi Han
    • , Haofu Hu
    • , Daniel S. T. Hughes
    • , Ann-Kathrin Huylmans
    • , Carsten Kemena
    • , Lukas P. M. Kremer
    • , Sandra L. Lee
    • , Alberto Lopez-Ezquerra
    • , Ludovic Mallet
    • , Jose M. Monroy-Kuhn
    • , Annabell Moser
    • , Shwetha C. Murali
    • , Donna M. Muzny
    • , Saria Otani
    • , Maria-Dolors Piulachs
    • , Monica Poelchau
    • , Jiaxin Qu
    • , Florentine Schaub
    • , Ayako Wada-Katsumata
    • , Kim C. Worley
    • , Qiaolin Xie
    • , Guillem Ylla
    • , Michael Poulsen
    • , Richard A. Gibbs
    • , Coby Schal
    • , Stephen Richards
    • , Xavier Belles
    • , Judith Korb
    •  &  Erich Bornberg-Bauer
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Letter

    Gächter et al. use experiments and simulations to show that low levels of cooperation (the ‘tragedy of the commons’) are systematically more likely in maintaining a public good than in providing a new one, even under identical incentives.

    • Simon Gächter
    • , Felix Kölle
    •  &  Simone Quercia
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Letter

    Global groundwater resources are threatened by over-extraction. An agent-based model is presented, incorporating cooperative and collective action theory that reveals tipping points in social attitudes toward conservation in three at-risk regions.

    • Juan Carlos Castilla-Rho
    • , Rodrigo Rojas
    • , Martin S. Andersen
    • , Cameron Holley
    •  &  Gregoire Mariethoz

Reviews & Perspectives

  • Nature Human Behaviour | Review Article

    Fehr and Schurtenberger show that the prevailing evidence supports the view that social norms are causal drivers of human cooperation and explain major cooperation-related regularities. Norms also guide peer punishment and people have strong preferences for institutions that support norm formation.

    • Ernst Fehr
    •  &  Ivo Schurtenberger
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Perspective

    Studying subtle signals of generosity is important to understand the long term maintenance of human cooperative networks. Certain types of low-cost food sharing among Martu women, for example, may signal commitment and cement cooperative ties.

    • Rebecca Bliege Bird
    • , Elspeth Ready
    •  &  Eleanor A. Power
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Review Article

    Hilbe et al. synthesize recent theoretical work on zero-determinant and ‘rival’ versus ‘partner’ strategies in social dilemmas. They describe the environments under which these contrasting selfish or cooperative strategies emerge in evolution.

    • Christian Hilbe
    • , Krishnendu Chatterjee
    •  &  Martin A. Nowak
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Review Article

    McAuliffe et al. synthesize recent behavioural and neuroscientific evidence on the development of fairness behaviours in children, which shows that the signatures of human fairness can be traced in childhood.

    • Katherine McAuliffe
    • , Peter R. Blake
    • , Nikolaus Steinbeis
    •  &  Felix Warneken


  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Comment

    Indigenous knowledge and ecological science have complementary differences that can be fruitfully combined to better understand the past and predict the future of social-ecological systems. Cooperation among scientific and Indigenous perspectives can improve conservation and resource management policies.

    • Natalie C. Ban
    • , Alejandro Frid
    • , Mike Reid
    • , Barry Edgar
    • , Danielle Shaw
    •  &  Peter Siwallace
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Comment

    Knowledge that humans could trigger a regime shift in a vital natural system may help in identifying a goal for collective action, but it is unlikely to spur the degree of cooperation needed to avert a catastrophe. Substantial behaviour change can be achieved by manipulating the institutions that govern human action on the commons.

    • Astrid Dannenberg
    •  &  Scott Barrett
  • Nature Ecology & Evolution | Q&A

    Global environmental change is largely indifferent to political boundaries, but meeting the challenges they pose in the future will inevitably require cross-border cooperation. We talk to David Lehrer, Executive Director at The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, about how this challenge is at the heart of their academic mission.

    • Simon Harold
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Comment

    Some acts of human cooperation are not easily explained by traditional models of kinship or reciprocity. Fitness interdependence may provide a unifying conceptual framework, in which cooperation arises from the mutual dependence for survival or reproduction, as occurs among mates, risk-pooling partnerships and brothers-in-arms.

    • Athena Aktipis
    • , Lee Cronk
    • , Joe Alcock
    • , Jessica D. Ayers
    • , Cristina Baciu
    • , Daniel Balliet
    • , Amy M. Boddy
    • , Oliver Scott Curry
    • , Jaimie Arona Krems
    • , Andrés Muñoz
    • , Daniel Sullivan
    • , Daniel Sznycer
    • , Gerald S. Wilkinson
    •  &  Pamela Winfrey
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Comment

    Through cooperation we are able to thrive, build societies, culture and technology. But history also reveals our potential for selfishness, spite and prejudice. Studying the neural processes that drive choice behaviour is essential to understand this paradox and develop means to curb greed and extend the limits of cooperation.

    • Carolyn H. Declerck
    •  &  Christophe Boone
  • Nature Human Behaviour | Comment

    Many species face the problems of how, when and with whom to cooperate. Comparing responses across species can reveal the evolutionary trajectory of these decisions, including in humans. Using nearly identical economic game methods to compare species could identify the evolutionary constraints and catalysts to cooperation.

    • Sarah F. Brosnan