Social semantics: altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection

S. A. West*, A. S. Griffin, A. Gardner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

796 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

From an evolutionary perspective, social behaviours are those which have fitness consequences for both the individual that performs the behaviour, and another individual. Over the last 43 years, a huge theoretical and empirical literature has developed on this topic. However, progress is often hindered by poor communication between scientists, with different people using the same term to mean different things, or different terms to mean the same thing. This can obscure what is biologically important, and what is not. The potential for such semantic confusion is greatest with interdisciplinary research. Our aim here is to address issues of semantic confusion that have arisen with research on the problem of cooperation. In particular, we: (i) discuss confusion over the terms kin selection, mutualism, mutual benefit, cooperation, altruism, reciprocal altruism, weak altruism, altruistic punishment, strong reciprocity, group selection and direct fitness; (ii) emphasize the need to distinguish between proximate (mechanism) and ultimate (survival value) explanations of behaviours. We draw examples from all areas, but especially recent work on humans and microbes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-432
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Volume20
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007

Keywords

  • direct fitness
  • Hamilton's rule
  • inclusive fitness
  • kin selection
  • reciprocal altruism
  • social evolution
  • social selection
  • GROUP-BENEFICIAL TRAITS
  • KIN SELECTION
  • INCLUSIVE FITNESS
  • SEX-RATIOS
  • EUSOCIAL HYMENOPTERA
  • EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY
  • BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY
  • STRUCTURED DEMES
  • INSECT SOCIETIES
  • COMPETITION

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