The coevolution of cooperation and cognition in humans
Cooperative behaviours in archaic hunter–gatherers could have been maintained partly due to the gains from cooperation being shared with kin. However, the question arises as to how cooperation was maintained after early humans transitioned to larger groups of unrelated individuals. We hypothesize that after cooperation had evolved via benefits to kin, the consecutive evolution of cognition increased the returns from cooperating, to the point where benefits to self were sufficient for cooperation to remain stable when group size increased and relatedness decreased. We investigate the theoretical plausibility of this hypothesis, with both analytical modelling and simulations. We examine situations where cognition either (i) increases the benefits of cooperation, (ii) leads to synergistic benefits between cognitively enhanced cooperators, (iii) allows the exploitation of less intelligent partners, and (iv) the combination of these effects. We find that cooperation and cognition can coevolve—cooperation initially evolves, favouring enhanced cognition, which favours enhanced cooperation, and stabilizes cooperation against a drop in relatedness. These results suggest that enhanced cognition could have transformed the nature of cooperative dilemmas faced by early humans, thereby explaining the maintenance of cooperation between unrelated partners.