Social Exchange (reciprocation, reciprocal altruism, dyadic cooperation)

For over 20 years, we have been conducting research on cognitive adaptations for social exchange.  For a summary and background, click here

The CEP's Michael Gurven has been researching the behavioral ecology of social exchange in the context of food sharing; click here for his upcoming target article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and here for his website.

For an up-to-date summary of the state of the evidence regarding cognitive adaptations for social exchange, see:

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. (2015). Adaptations for reasoning about social exchange. In Buss, D. M. (Ed.), The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, Second edition. Volume 2: Integrations. (pp. 625-668). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

[For those curious about Buller's recent critique, this paper reviews all the relevant evidence -- Buller neglected to discuss widely-known evidence that disconfirms his view. In particular, his counter-explanation, like Fodor's, requires that all deontic rules elicit good violation detection. But that is not true--a fact that has been known since the early 1990s (and before). So see the sections on "dissociations within the domain of deontic rules".]

The best introductions to the cognitive work on this topic by Cosmides and Tooby are some earlier works:

Cosmides, L., Barrett, H.C., & Tooby, J. (2010). Adaptive specializations, social exchange, and the evolution of human intelligence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107pp. 9007-9014.

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (1992).  Cognitive adaptations for social exchange.  In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture.  New York: Oxford University Press.

[Discusses the selection pressures, cognitive evidence, and how cognitive adaptations for social exchange shape human cultural life.]

Cosmides, L.  (1989).  The logic of social exchange: Has natural selection shaped how humans reason? Studies with the Wason selection task. Cognition, 31, 187-276.

[Presents some of the initial experiments from Cosmides, 1985, plus some early one's discriminating between social contract theory and Cheng & Holyoak's permission schema theory -- see CT 92 for more]

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (1989).  Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture, Part II. Case study: A computational theory of social exchange.  Ethology & Sociobiology, 10, 51-97. 

[This, and the dissertation, have the computational theory, which served as the basis of the experiments]

This work began with Cosmides' 1985 dissertation:

Cosmides, L.  (1985). Deduction or Darwinian Algorithms? An explanation of the "elusive" content effect on the Wason selection task.  Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.  University Microfilms #86-02206. Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7

Other work:

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (2004).  Social exchange: The evolutionary design of a neurocognitive system.  In The New Cognitive Neurosciences, III (Michael S. Gazzaniga, Ed.).  Cambridge, MA: MIT press.

[a short review of the evidence]

Fiddick, L.  (2004).  Domains of deontic reasoning: Resolving the discrepancy between the cognitive and moral reasoning literatures Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 57(3), 447-474.  click here 

[dissociations, in both moral reasoning and violation detection, between deontic rules involving social exchange and precautionary rules]

Stone, V., Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., Kroll, N. & Knight, R.  (2002).  Selective Impairment of Reasoning About Social Exchange in a Patient with Bilateral Limbic System Damage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(17), 11531-11536.

[a very narrow neural dissociation between two types of deontic permission rules, both of which involve subjective utilities: ability to detect violators of rules involving hazards and precautions was spared; ability to detect violators of social exchange rules (i.e. cheaters) was impaired.]

Sugiyama, L., Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L.  (2002).  Cross-cultural evidence of cognitive adaptations for social exchange among the Shiwiar of Ecuadorian Amazonia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(17), 11537-11542.

[cheater detection--necessary for social exchange to be an evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) --is buffered against cross-cultural variation. a cultural dissociation between ESS-relevant and ESS-irrelevant aspects of the adaptation]

Fiddick, L., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J.  (2000).  No interpretation without representation: The role of domain-specific representations and inferences in the Wason selection task.  Cognition, 77, 1-79.

[On why Sperber, Cara, & Girotto's version of relevance theory does not explain reasoning about social exchange or precautionary rules.  On dissociations between precautionary and social exchange reasoning]

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (2000).  The cognitive neuroscience of social reasoning.  In M. S. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The New Cognitive Neurosciences, Second Edition.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  (Chapter 87, pp. 1259-1270.) 

[a short review of the evidence]

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (1997).  Dissecting the computational architecture of social inference mechanisms.  In: Characterizing human psychological adaptations (Ciba Foundation Symposium #208).  Chichester: Wiley. (pp. 132-156).

[What empirical criteria allow one to tell whether reasoning is about two domains is governed by a single underlying mechanism, or by two separate ones?  Illustrated by discussion of Cheng & Holyoak's permission schema theory versus social contract algorithms.]

Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L.  (1996).  Friendship and the Bankers Paradox: Other pathways to the evolution of adaptations for altruism. In W. G. Runciman, J. Maynard Smith, & R. I. M. Dunbar (Eds.),  Evolution of Social Behaviour Patterns in Primates and Man.  Proceedings of the British Academy, 88, 119-143

[Theoretical article contrasting social exchange with deep engagement relationships: presents an alternative set of selection pressures that should have designed the computational systems that give rise to deep engagement relationships: true friendships, romantic love; certain familial loyalties].

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (1995).  From function to structure: The role of evolutionary biology and computational theories in cognitive neuroscience.  In M. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The cognitive neurosciences.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [Illustrates notion of a computational theory using social exchange]

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (1994).  Better than rational: Evolutionary psychology and the invisible hand. American Economic Review (May), 327-332. 

[How evolved computational specializations shape "the rules of the game"; relation between cognitive adaptations for social exchange and modern trade one example]

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (1994).  Beyond intuition and instinct blindness: The case for an evolutionarily rigorous cognitive science. Cognition, 50, 41-77. 

[Grammars of the social world; grammar of social exchange]

Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J.  (1991).  Reasoning and natural selection.  Encyclopedia of Human Biology, vol. 6.  San Diego: Academic Press.


See also:

Gigerenzer, G., & Hug, K. (1992). Domain specific reasoning: Social contracts, cheating, and perspective change. Cognition, 43, 127-171.

Platt, R., and Griggs, R. (1993).  Darwinian algorithms and the Wason selection task: a factorial analysis of social contract selection task problemsCognition, 48: 163-192.


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