Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 281 (1794): 20141539 (2014)

Drawing on an idea proposed by Darwin, it has recently been hypothesised that violent intergroup conflict might have played a substantial role in the evolution of human cooperativeness and altruism. The central notion of this argument, dubbed ‘parochial altruism’, is that the two genetic or cultural traits, aggressiveness against out-groups and cooperativeness towards the in-group, including self-sacrificial altruistic behaviour, might have coevolved in humans. This review assesses the explanatory power of current theories of ‘parochial altruism’. After a brief synopsis of the existing literature, two pitfalls in the interpretation of the most widely used models are discussed: potential direct benefits and high relatedness between group members implicitly induced by assumptions about conflict structure and frequency. Then, a number of simplifying assumptions made in the construction of these models are pointed out which currently limit their explanatory power. Next, relevant empirical evidence from several disciplines which could guide future theoretical extensions is reviewed. Finally, selected alternative accounts of evolutionary links between intergroup conflict and intragroup cooperation are briefly discussed which could be integrated with parochial altruism in the future.
Keywords intergroup conflict  altruism  parochialism  cooperation  warfare  coevolution
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