Evolving the neuroendocrine physiology of human and primate cooperation and collective action

Benjamin Trumble, Adrian V. Jaeggi, Michael Gurven

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


While many hormones play vital roles in facilitating or reinforcing cooperative behaviour, the neurohormones underlying competitive and cooperative behaviours are largely conserved across all mammals. This raises the question of how endocrine mechanisms have been shaped by selection to produce different levels of cooperation in different species. Multiple components of endocrine physiology—from baseline hormone concentrations, to binding proteins, to the receptor sensitivity and specificity—can evolve independently and be impacted by current socio-ecological conditions or individual status, thus potentially generating a wide range of variation within and between species. Here, we highlight several neurohormones and variation in hormone receptor genes associated with cooperation, focusing on the role of oxytocin and testosterone in contexts ranging from parenting and pair-bonding to reciprocity and territorial defence. While the studies reviewed herein describe the current state of the literature with regard to hormonal modulators of cooperation and collective action, there is still a paucity of research on hormonal mechanisms that help facilitate large-scale collective action. We end by discussing several potential areas for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150014
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1683
StatePublished - Dec 5 2015


  • Cooperation
  • Oxytocin
  • Testosterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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