Synthetic View of Altruism and Cooperation

Altruistic behaviors are a central component of many social systems. Any judgment on the extent of altruism in the natural world, however, will always depend upon definition. A requirement for conscious intention restricts altruism to creatures with sophisticated cognition, such as humans. However, the fitness-based definition of behavioral ecology reveals a wealth of additional examples, which typically arise through a combination of mechanisms. Centrally though, actions that decrease lifetime reproduction can readily evolve when there are indirect benefits that increase overall inclusive fitness. This is nowhere more obvious than in the social insects, where workers spend their entire life building, guarding, and foraging to raise a myriad of their relatives' offspring.

See also: Cooperation; Kin Selection.

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