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J Theor Biol. 2003 Feb 21;220(4):407-18.

The hitchhiker's guide to altruism: gene-culture coevolution, and the internalization of norms.

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Santa Fe Institute and Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, 15 Forbes Avenue, Northampton, MA 01060, USA.


An internal norm is a pattern of behavior enforced in part by internal sanctions, such as shame, guilt and loss of self-esteem, as opposed to purely external sanctions, such as material rewards and punishment. The ability to internalize norms is widespread among humans, although in some so-called "sociopaths", this capacity is diminished or lacking. Suppose there is one genetic locus that controls the capacity to internalize norms. This model shows that if an internal norm is fitness enhancing, then for plausible patterns of socialization, the allele for internalization of norms is evolutionarily stable. This framework can be used to model Herbert Simon's (1990) explanation of altruism, showing that altruistic norms can "hitchhike" on the general tendency of internal norms to be personally fitness-enhancing. A multi-level selection, gene-culture coevolution argument then explains why individually fitness-reducing internal norms are likely to be prosocial as opposed to socially harmful.

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