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Emergence of Shared Intentionality Is Coupled to the Advance of Cumulative Culture

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  • Simon D Angus
  • Jonathan Newton

Abstract

There is evidence that the sharing of intentions was an important factor in the evolution of humans’ unique cognitive abilities. Here, for the first time, we formally model the coevolution of jointly intentional behavior and cumulative culture, showing that rapid techno-cultural advance goes hand in hand with the emergence of the ability to participate in jointly intentional behavior. Conversely, in the absence of opportunities for significant techno-cultural improvement, the ability to undertake jointly intentional behavior is selected against. Thus, we provide a unified mechanism for the suppression or emergence of shared intentions and collaborative behavior in humans, as well as a potential cause of inter-species diversity in the prevalence of such behavior.Author Summary: A typical day in the life of almost any person involves the sharing of intentions. Such shared intentions range from the banal—‘we intend to meet for dinner’, to the elegant—‘we intend to sing a duet’, to those with far reaching consequences—‘we intend to form an alliance to defeat our mutual enemy’. Recent research in developmental psychology suggests that humans’ especial proclivity to undertake jointly intentional behavior could be responsible for the uniqueness of human cognition. That is, humans do not only collaborate because we are smart, but are smart because we collaborate. Using recent advances in game theoretic modeling, we, for the first time, formally model the evolution of the ability to form shared intentions and show that this ability is likely to have evolved at a time when technological and cultural progress offered particularly high benefits to survival, such as might be the case during a period of significant environmental change.

Suggested Citation

  • Simon D Angus & Jonathan Newton, 2015. "Emergence of Shared Intentionality Is Coupled to the Advance of Cumulative Culture," PLOS Computational Biology, Public Library of Science, vol. 11(10), pages 1-12, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:plo:pcbi00:1004587
    DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004587
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Glenn Ellison, 2000. "Basins of Attraction, Long-Run Stochastic Stability, and the Speed of Step-by-Step Evolution," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 67(1), pages 17-45.
    2. Newton, Jonathan & Angus, Simon D., 2015. "Coalitions, tipping points and the speed of evolution," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 157(C), pages 172-187.
    3. Sawa, Ryoji, 2014. "Coalitional stochastic stability in games, networks and markets," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 90-111.
    4. Jorgen W. Weibull, 1997. "Evolutionary Game Theory," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262731215.
    5. repec:hhs:iuiwop:487 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Newton, Jonathan, 2012. "Recontracting and stochastic stability in cooperative games," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 147(1), pages 364-381.
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    Cited by:

    1. Newton, Jonathan & Wait, Andrew & Angus, Simon D., 2019. "Watercooler chat, organizational structure and corporate culture," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 354-365.
    2. Newton, Jonathan & Sercombe, Damian, 2020. "Agency, potential and contagion," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 119(C), pages 79-97.
    3. Khalil, Elias L., 2020. "The isomorphism hypothesis: The prisoner's dilemma as intertemporal allocation, and vice versa," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 176(C), pages 735-746.
    4. Simon D Angus & Jonathan Newton, 2020. "Collaboration leads to cooperation on sparse networks," PLOS Computational Biology, Public Library of Science, vol. 16(1), pages 1-11, January.

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