The significance of non-vertical transmission of phenotype for the evolution of altruism

Biology and Philosophy 21 (2):213-234 (2006)
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My aim in this paper is to demonstrate that a very simple learning rule based on imitation can help to sustain altruism as a culturally transmitted pattern or behaviour among agents playing a standard prisoner’s dilemma game. The point of this demonstration is not to prove that imitation is single-handedly responsible for existing levels of altruism (a thesis that is false), nor is the point to show that imitation is an important factor in explanations for the evolution of altruism (a thesis already prominent in the existing literature). The point is to show that imitation contributes to the evolution of altruism in a particular way that is not always fairly represented by evolutionary game theory models. Specifically, the paper uses a simple model to illustrate that cultural transmission includes mechanisms that do not transmit phenotype vertically (i.e. from parent to related offspring) and that these mechanisms can promote altruism in the absence of any direct biological propensity favouring such behaviour. This is a noteworthy result because it shows that evolutionary models can be built to explicitly reflect the contribution of non-vertical transmission in our explanations for the evolution of altruism among humans and other social species.



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Scott Woodcock
University of Victoria

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