Category Cultural Evolution

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Journal Articles

Joint effects of voluntary participation and group selection on the evolution of altruistic punishment

Shin, H.C., S. Vallury, M.A. Janssen and D.J. Yu

2022 PLOS ONE 17(5): e0268019.


It is puzzling how altruistic punishment of defectors can evolve in large groups of nonrelatives, since punishers should voluntarily bear individual costs of punishing to benefit those who do not pay the costs. Although two distinct mechanisms have been proposed to explain the puzzle, namely voluntary participation and group-level competition and selection, insights into their joint effects have been less clear. Here we investigated what could be combined effects of these two mechanisms on the evolution of altruistic punishment and how these effects can vary with nonparticipants’ individual payoff and group size. We modelled altruistic punishers as those who contribute to a public good and impose a fine on each defector, i.e., they are neither pure punishers nor excluders. Our simulation results show that voluntary participation has negative effects on the evolution of cooperation in small groups regardless of nonparticipants’ payoffs, while in large groups it has positive effects within only a limited range of nonparticipants’ payoff. We discuss that such asymmetric effects could be explained by evolutionary forces emerging from voluntary participation. Lastly, we suggest that insights from social science disciplines studying the exit option could enrich voluntary participation models.


A multi-level evolutionary framework for sustainability analysis

Waring, T.M., M.A. Kline, J.S. Brooks, S.H. Goff, J. Gowdy, M.A. Janssen, P.E. Smaldino, J. Jacquet

2015 Ecology ans Society 20(2): 34.


Sustainability theory can help achieve desirable social-ecological states by generalizing lessons across contexts and improving the design of sustainability interventions. To accomplish these goals, we argue that theory in sustainability science must (1) explain the emergence and persistence of social-ecological states, (2) account for endogenous cultural change, (3) incorporate cooperation dynamics, and (4) address the complexities of multilevel social-ecological interactions. We suggest that cultural evolutionary theory broadly, and cultural multilevel selection in particular, can improve on these fronts. We outline a multilevel evolutionary framework for describing social-ecological change and detail how multilevel cooperative dynamics can determine outcomes in environmental dilemmas. We show how this framework complements existing sustainability frameworks with a description of the emergence and persistence of sustainable institutions and behavior, a means to generalize causal patterns across social-ecological contexts, and a heuristic for designing and evaluating effective sustainability interventions. We support these assertions with case examples from developed and developing countries in which we track cooperative change at multiple levels of social organization as they impact social-ecological outcomes. Finally, we make suggestions for further theoretical development, empirical testing, and application.

Keywords: cooperation; cultural evolution; multilevel selection; sustainability; theory


Evolution of rules in shedding type of card games

Janssen, M.A.

2010 Advances in Complex Systems 13(6): 741-754.


Shedding-type of card games are used as a fruit fly to study the evolution of institutional arrangements. Eleven types of rules are identified which leads to a spectrum of 2048 possible shedding games. Each game can be evaluated by the length and difficulty of the game and as such a fitness landscape of possible shedding games can be constructed. Building on cultural group selection simulations are performed with 100 groups which start with randomly throwing cards and evolving to games similar to UNO. Finally, experiments have been performed where characteristics of agents co-evolve with the rules of the game.

Keywords: Institutions; card games; evolution of rules


Evolution of cooperation and altruistic punishment when retaliation is possible

Janssen, M.A. and C. Bushman

2008 Journal of Theoretical Biology 254(3):541-545.


Altruistic punishment is suggested to explain observed high levels of cooperation among non-kin related humans. However, laboratory experiments as well as ethnographic evidence suggest that people might retaliate if being punished, and that this reduces the level of cooperation. Building on existing models on the evolution of cooperation and altruistic punishment, we explore the consequences of the option of retaliation. We find that cooperation and altruistic punishment does not evolve with larger population levels if the option of retaliation is included.

Keywords: Public good games; Group selection


Book Chapters

Cultural Evolution of the Structure of Human Groups

Jordan, F.M., C. van Schaik, P. François, H. Gintis, D.B.M. Haun, D.J. Hruschka, M.A. Janssen, J.A. Kitts, L. Lehmann, S. Mathew, P.J. Richerson, P. Turchin, and P. Wiessner

2013 In Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion, edited by P.J. Richerson and M.H. Christiansen, pp. 87-116, MIT Press.

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