Volume 2 Issue 7, July 2018

Volume 2 Issue 7

Focus on cooperation

Human beings rely on cooperation to survive and thrive. Understanding how and why cooperation succeeds or fails is integral to solving the many global challenges we face. In this Focus, we bring together review, opinion, and research content on human cooperation, aiming to spark interdisciplinary conversation.

See Editorial

Image: sarote pruksachat/Moment/Getty. Cover Design: Tulsi Voralia.


  • 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.

Comment & Opinion

  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

Research Highlights

News & Views

  • News & Views |

    Agriculture is one of the key innovations of human societies, yet the nature of and reasons for its emergence are debated. A new model that hindcasts past global population suggests that an improving climate increased plant productivity and human population density, facilitating domestication.

    • Dolores R. Piperno
  • News & Views |

    Category learning requires finding commonalities between objects in spite of their differences in appearance. While generally thought to rely on abstract representations, far removed from the sensory input, category learning may instead involve early sensory processes more than expected.

    • Stefan Pollmann
  • News & Views |

    A study shows that updating visual perceptual skills is an active process with many similarities to memory plasticity. Using classic behavioural techniques and new brain imaging tools, the authors show that this perceptual skill can undergo reconsolidation.

    • Matteo Bernabo
    •  & Karim Nader


  • 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
  • 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
  • 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


  • Letter |

    Kavanagh and colleagues model global human population densities between 21,000 and 4,000 years ago and find that improved environmental conditions and increased potential for population growth facilitated the emergence of agricultural domestication.

    • Patrick H. Kavanagh
    • , Bruno Vilela
    • , Hannah J. Haynie
    • , Ty Tuff
    • , Matheus Lima-Ribeiro
    • , Russell D. Gray
    • , Carlos A. Botero
    •  & Michael C. Gavin
  • Letter |

    Analysing high-resolution mobility traces from almost 40,000 individuals reveals that people typically revisit a set of 25 familiar locations day-to-day, but that this set evolves over time and is proportional to the size of their social sphere.

    • Laura Alessandretti
    • , Piotr Sapiezynski
    • , Vedran Sekara
    • , Sune Lehmann
    •  & Andrea Baronchelli


  • Letter |

    Category learning has been traditionally viewed as a high-level cognitive process independent of sensory systems. Rosedahl and colleagues demonstrate that procedural category learning is in fact dependent on low-level visual representations.

    • Luke A. Rosedahl
    • , Miguel P. Eckstein
    •  & F. Gregory Ashby
  • Letter |

    Shortly after retrieval, memory undergoes a labile period during which it can be modified. This study shows that this reconsolidation phase shows the same behavioural and neural characteristics as the initial learning phase.

    • Ji Won Bang
    • , Kazuhisa Shibata
    • , Sebastian M. Frank
    • , Edward G. Walsh
    • , Mark W. Greenlee
    • , Takeo Watanabe
    •  & Yuka Sasaki
  • Letter |

    Analyses of twin and genomic data show a significant influence of genetic factors on the co-development of conduct and emotional problems from childhood to adolescence. Those with co-developing symptoms may represent a clinical subgroup with higher genetic risk.

    • Laurie J. Hannigan
    • , Jean-Baptiste Pingault
    • , Eva Krapohl
    • , Tom A. McAdams
    • , Frühling V. Rijsdijk
    •  & Thalia C. Eley

Amendments & Corrections