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The Evolution of Prosocial Concern

Lately, in behavioural research scholars have shifted their attention more and more from competition to altruism. However, the evolution of altruism largely remains a conundrum. Taking the comparative approach, there has been a recent surge in studies on animal pro-sociality, with multiple studies showing that next to humans also a variety of primate species are capable of pro-sociality. As pro-sociality was in these studies most prevalent among a cooperative breeding primate species, a major hypothesis resulting from this research is the cooperative breeding hypothesis: Pro-social concern has evolved in species that are especially interdependent on each other, i.e., show cooperative breeding like for example humans and marmosets. However, with only primates tested, and results among primates relatively inconsistent, this hypothesis needs further testing. Alternatively, it has been argued that social bonding may have lead to the evolution of pro-social concern. Yet again, with only primates tested, common ancestry cannot be excluded. Therefore, in this study I aim at testing a cooperative breeding species and a species with particular strong social bonds, each within two phylogenitically different lineages: primates (common marmosets and long-tailed macaques) and corvids (Azure-winged magpies and common ravens). Additionally, I aim at testing humans in a similar set-up as the four animal species. Finally, also the motivations behind animal pro-sociality remain relatively unknown. Using several different set-ups, I also aim at unravelling what motivates animals to behave pro-social. Therefore the research questions that I aim to address in this project are:


1. What socio-ecological pressures lead to the evolution of pro-social concern?

2. Is this evolution restricted to one phylogenetic lineage?

3. And what motivates pro-social choices in those species that show this behaviour?


This research is being funded by a Stand-Alone Grant of the Austrian Science Fundation (grantnr: P 26806)


Team-member: Lisa Horn & Martina Stocker 

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