Genetic differentiation and the evolution of cooperation in chimpanzees and humans

Kevin Langergraber, Grit Schubert, Carolyn Rowney, Richard Wrangham, Zinta Zommers, Linda Vigilant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


It has been proposed that human cooperation is unique among animals for its scale and complexity, itsaltruistic nature and its occurrence among large groups of individuals that are not closely related or areeven strangers. One potential solution to this puzzle is that the unique aspects of human cooperationevolved as a result of high levels of lethal competition (i.e. warfare) between genetically differentiatedgroups. Although between-group migration would seem to make this scenario unlikely, the plausibilityof the between-group competition model has recently been supported by analyses using estimates of geneticdifferentiation derived from contemporary human groups hypothesized to be representative of thosethat existed during the time period when human cooperation evolved. Here, we examine levels ofbetween-group genetic differentiation in a large sample of contemporary human groups selected to overcomesome of the problems with earlier estimates, and compare them with those of chimpanzees. We findthat our estimates of between-group genetic differentiation in contemporary humans are lower than thoseused in previous tests, and not higher than those of chimpanzees. Because levels of between-group competitionin contemporary humans and chimpanzees are also similar, these findings suggest that theidentification of other factors that differ between chimpanzees and humans may be needed to providea compelling explanation of why humans, but not chimpanzees, display the unique features of humancooperation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2546-2552
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1717
StatePublished - Aug 22 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruism
  • Chimpanzees
  • Group competition
  • Hunter-gatherer
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Warfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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