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Am Nat. 2007 Jul;170(1):21-36. Epub 2007 May 11.

Strong reciprocity or strong ferocity? A population genetic view of the evolution of altruistic punishment.

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  • 1Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.

Erratum in

  • Am Nat. 2007 Oct;170(4):661.


Strong reciprocity, defined as a predisposition to help others and to punish those that are not helping, has been proposed as a potent force leading to the evolution of cooperation and altruism. However, the conditions under which strong reciprocity might be favored are not clear. Here we investigate the selective pressure on strong reciprocity by letting both limited dispersal (i.e., spatial structure) and recombination between helping and punishment jointly determine the evolutionary dynamics of strong reciprocity. Our analytical model suggests that when helping and punishment are perfectly linked traits (no recombination occurring between them), strong reciprocity can spread even when the initial frequency of strong reciprocators is close to 0 in the population (i.e., a rare mutant can invade). By contrast, our results indicate that when recombination can occur between helping and punishment (i.e., both traits coevolve) and is stronger than selection, punishment is likely to invade a population of defectors only when it gives a direct fitness benefit to the actor. Overall, our results delineate the conditions under which strong reciprocity is selected for in a spatially structured population and highlight that the forces behind its evolution involves kinship (be it genetic or cultural).

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