Assistant Professor • Leiden University

Science Advances 2023

Humans work together in groups to tackle shared problems and contribute to local club goods that benefit other group members. Whereas benefits from club goods remain group bound, groups are often nested in overarching collectives that face shared problems like pandemics or climate change. Such challenges require individuals to cooperate across group boundaries, raising the question how cooperation can transcend beyond confined groups. Here, we show how frequent intergroup interactions allow groups to transition from group-bound to universal cooperation. With frequent intergroup interactions, reciprocity of cooperative acts permeates group boundaries and enables the evolution of universal cooperation. As soon as intergroup interactions take place frequently, people start to selectively reward cooperation aimed at benefitting everyone, irrespective of their group membership. Simulations further show that it becomes more difficult to overcome group-bound cooperation when populations are fragmented into many small groups. Our findings reveal important prerequisites for the evolution of universal cooperation.

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