Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Cooperation in adversity: An evolutionary approach

Lookup NU author(s): Dr John Lazarus



This is the of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Taylor & Francis, 2017.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Throughout the organic world cooperation provides mutual benefit but is vulnerable to exploitation from free-riders. Over the last 30 years work in evolutionary biology and game theory has provided understanding of the conditions necessary for the maintenance of cooperation, and advances in gene-culture coevolution theory have extended this understanding to our own species. After a preamble on the evolutionary analysis of behaviour I outline this work. I then consider how cooperation is influenced by environmental adversity and find that in non-human species it is enhanced under these circumstances in a range of taxa. In a sample of human cases the same result is found in a majority, but the opposite effect in some when socioeconomic position is the measure of quality. In anthropological studies of societies living in extremis, again the opposite effect is found. I propose a sigmoid shape for the relationship between adversity and fitness (or human well-being) and a consequent inverted-U shaped relationship between adversity and the benefit of cooperation. Most of the data presented on the relationship between adversity and cooperation are consistent with this proposal. I suggest further tests of the proposal and place the study of cooperation in the broader context of prosociality.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lazarus J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Global Discourse

Year: 2017

Volume: 7

Issue: 4

Pages: 571-598

Online publication date: 02/01/2018

Acceptance date: 06/11/2017

Date deposited: 21/03/2018

ISSN (print): 2326-9995

ISSN (electronic): 2043-7897

Publisher: Taylor & Francis


DOI: 10.1080/23269995.2017.1402426


Altmetrics provided by Altmetric