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(BBSRC DTP) The evolution and development of mutualistic cooperation in nonhuman primates and humans


Project Description

One of the most perplexing problems in biology and psychology is human cooperation. How can coordination and prosocial acts such as helping exist in the face of free-riding and cheating? One solution involves mutualistic interactions. With mutualistic interactions, unlike costly acts such as altruism, all individuals receive immediate benefits, therefore mitigating the risks of exploitation. However, trust in the social partner is still required, therefore even mutualistic interactions can break down.
A key aspect of that might distinguish mutualistic interactions in humans as compared to other animals is that individuals have not only their own goals, but a collective or shared goal (Tomasello, Carpenter, Call, Behne, & Moll, 2005). Mutualistic interactions that involve shared intentions require that participants are mutually responsive, committed to the joint activity, and committed to mutual support (Bratman, 1992). However, interactions that appear to be shared cooperative activities can arise through other means. By-products of individual actions, free-riding and coercion can produce interactions that are “mutualistic” in appearance, but are not intended to be joint activities.
To better understand the nature of mutualistic interactions, researchers have looked at how these develop in children, and how they compare to our closest living relatives, notably chimpanzees. One of the key findings is that children, but not chimpanzees, appear to have shared intentions. For instance, children as young as 3 years of age prefer to perform an action that benefits both themselves and a peer, but chimpanzees do not (Rekers, Haun, & Tomasello, 2011). The emphasis of research on mutualistic interactions has been on recognising joint intentions. However, there has been less attention devoted to the development and evolution of the motivational basis of mutualistic interactions.
This project will explore how children and chimpanzees are able to form trust in their social partners. One key innovation is that the usual power asymmetry – such as social dominance and age – will be reversed, so that younger or less dominant individuals will be in the position to break the mutualistic interaction if there is a personal advantage to doing so.

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website View Website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.

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