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A Different Kind of AnimalHow Culture Transformed Our Species$
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Robert Boyd

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691195902

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691195902.001.0001

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Beyond Kith and Kin Culture and the Scale of Human Cooperation

Beyond Kith and Kin Culture and the Scale of Human Cooperation

(p.63) Chapter 2 Beyond Kith and Kin Culture and the Scale of Human Cooperation
A Different Kind of Animal

Robert Boyd

Princeton University Press

This chapter details Robert Boyd's account of social learning and cumulative cultural evolution to illuminate how societies adapt to changing environments and develop ever more sophisticated tools and technology. Humans' ability to learn by imitation and their evolved trusting psychology are used to explain the centrality of social norms, and to explain why and how humans have for so long been “supercooperators.” Even in foraging societies, the extent of human cooperation vastly exceeds that of any other species. Ultimately, millennia of cumulative cultural evolution have helped create a vast “worldwide web of specialization and exchange.” Humans are unique in that “people cooperate in large groups of almost unrelated individuals to provide public goods.” Cooperation in large groups “requires systems of norms enforced by sanctions.” In larger and more complex societies, cooperation and the provision of public goods depend crucially on coercive sanctioning by third parties: institutions such as police and courts.

Keywords:   social learning, cumulative cultural evolution, societies, imitation, social norms, human cooperation, public goods, sanctions, institutions

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