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Group Selection and the Evolution of Altruism


  • Ben Cooper
  • Chris Wallace


`Group selection` is often cited as an explanation for the survival of altruism. The idea of group selection is a controversial one - much effort has been expended on its justification (and refutation). Relatively little effort has gone into formally testing whether or not it can actually provide a reasonable explanation for altruistic behaviour. This paper concentrates solely on whether or not a group structure enables the survival of altruism in an evolving population. If altruism is to flourish either groups need to be isolated from each other for multiple generations, or groups themselves need to be constructed in a positively assortative manner. In the former case the size of the group, the relative benefit to cost of altruism and the number of generations in isolation play a crucial role in determining the survival chances of altruism. In the latter case, when groups are short-lived phenomena, a precise condition is given on the assortative mechanism for the survival of altruism in the long run. The probability distribution of the dispersion-rematching process and the group size are of critical importance in this case.

Suggested Citation

  • Ben Cooper & Chris Wallace, 2001. "Group Selection and the Evolution of Altruism," Economics Series Working Papers 67, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:67

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jacob Weisdorf & Paul Sharp, 2009. "From preventive to permissive checks: the changing nature of the Malthusian relationship between nuptiality and the price of provisions in the nineteenth century," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 3(1), pages 55-70, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Herold, Florian, 2003. "Carrot or Stick? Group Selection and the Evolution of Reciprocal Preferences," Discussion Papers in Economics 40, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    2. repec:spr:jogath:v:47:y:2018:i:3:d:10.1007_s00182-018-0630-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Oded Stark & Doris Behrens & Yong Wang, 2009. "On the evolutionary edge of migration as an assortative mating device," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 19(1), pages 95-109, February.
    4. Martin Kaae Jensen & Alexandros Rigos, 2012. "Evolutionary Games with Group Selection," Discussion Papers 13-05, Department of Economics, University of Birmingham.
    5. Richard Povey, 2014. "Punishment and the potency of group selection," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 24(4), pages 799-816, September.
    6. Pfeuffer, Wolfgang, 2006. "Religion as a Seed Crystal for Altruistic Cooperation," Munich Dissertations in Economics 5788, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    7. Florian Herold, 2012. "Carrot or Stick? The Evolution of Reciprocal Preferences in a Haystack Model," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 914-940, April.
    8. Martin Kaae Jensen & Alexandros Rigos, 2018. "Evolutionary games and matching rules," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 47(3), pages 707-735, September.

    More about this item


    altruism; group selection; evolution; assortative matching; dispersion;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C73 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Stochastic and Dynamic Games; Evolutionary Games


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