Re: Trivers' Reciprocal Altruism

From: Jon Wright (
Date: Wed Nov 26 1997 - 10:22:44 GMT

> If we abandon a friend because we find he has cheated, this does not
> affect our chance of survival and reproduction. But having been
> uninterested in monitoring whether friends pay back our favours in the
> EEA may have led to selection against that unfortunate uninterested
> tendency.

Natural selection would select toward those who had a
tendency to monitor unconsciously the altruistic relationship since
they would be cheated on less, losing less in the cost/benefit ratio.

The subjective feelings of guilt, anger, indebtedness, goodwill
and so on could be adaptations to assist in the monitoring of
reciprocity. Feeling that someone might not reciprocate is advantageous
since you will not help a cheater. But the cheaters might become more
sophisticated (continuing indefinately to the point where we are all
hyper-sensitive beings with ESP).

Reciprocity need not be influenced by the EEA. It could be a
proximal economic decision in which you help others if you believe they
will help you. You could be an inherently generous person, believing in
good human nature, being cheated on lots but also gaining lots of

Why does reciprocity not affect the chances of survival and
reproduction? It seems to me that in a reciprocating society everyone
has a better survival probability and in a cheating society everyone is
at a disadvantage, being loners. Neither of these is an ESS since they
could be infiltrated but cooperation (=altruism) is a hallmark of
progress and survival of the species.

> > however we go against our genetically
> > predetermined behaviour all the time ( Dawkins noted that
> > cultural practices can override biological predispositions and
> > tried to explain it in terms of memes).

Is this something to do with the inconsistency between the EEA
and the contemporary environment? If genetically predetermined behaviour
were something like trying to find sugar then today we go against such a
behaviour often as (unhealthy) foods are abundant.

In the GAE, we would expect to look for a mate who was
attractive, had status and was healthy etc. These predetermined
preferences may be overidden by cultural practices such as wearing the
right clothes or going to the right parties, which have nothing to do
with the EEA but are successful, proximal strategies nonetheless.

> Chances are that our CONSCIOUS feelings and decisions about
> reproduction have little to do with the reproductive strategies
> that worked in the EEA: If you want to know about the effects
> of THOSE distal factors you need to talk about feelings like love,
> lust, jealousy and perhaps guilt and kindness. THOSE are the emotions
> through which our EEA is expressing itself in our day. Our conscious
> reproductive strategies have little to do with that, especially since
> knowledge of the link between mating and reproducing came well after the
> EEA (and had still not reached Stone Age tribes in Papua in our own
> century).

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