Inter-group cooperation in humans and other animals

Elva Joan Hilda Robinson, Jessica Barker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Social interactions are often characterised by cooperation within groups and conflict or competition between groups. In certain circumstances, however, cooperation can arise between social groups. Here we examine the circumstances under which inter-group cooperation is expected to emerge and present examples with particular focus on groups in two well-studied but dissimilar taxa: humans and social insects. Drivers for the evolution of inter-group cooperation include overarching threats from predators, competitors or adverse conditions, and group-level resource asymmetries. Resources can differ between groups in both quantity and type. Where the difference is in type, inequalities can lead to specialisation and division of labour between groups, a phenomenon characteristic of human societies, but rarely seen in other animals. The ability to identify members of one’s own group is essential for social coherence; we consider the proximate roles of identity effects in shaping inter-group cooperation and allowing membership of multiple groups. Finally, we identify numerous valuable avenues for future research that will improve our understanding of the processes shaping inter-group cooperation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160793
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalBiology letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017

Bibliographical note

© 2017 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • Ccoperation
  • Evolution
  • conflict
  • human behaviour
  • social insects
  • polydomy
  • ants
  • Fission-fusion
  • co-operation
  • mutualism
  • collective organisation
  • Self-organisation

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