The Phylogeny and Ontogeny of Prosocial Behavior

Joan B. Silk*, Bailey R. House

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Humans rely on cooperation among large numbers of unrelated group members to a much greater extent than any other animals do. Moreover, most people have social preferences that motivate them to feel concern for the welfare of others and take advantage of opportunities to behave altruistically toward others. This raises two important questions: Are differences in the form, extent, and scope of cooperation among humans and other primates associated with differences in the nature of their social preferences? How do social preferences unfold over the course of development in humans? Here, we review a growing body of research that addresses these two questions. We focus on a set of experiments that were inspired by research in behavioral economics. In these experiments, subjects are presented with choices that have different material payoffs for themselves and others, and the choices that subjects make reveal their underlying preferences. This work is allowing researchers to begin to map out the phylogeny and ontogeny of social preferences in humans and other primates.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199940943
ISBN (Print)9780199738182
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sept 2012


  • Altruism
  • Dictator game
  • Fairness
  • Inequity aversion
  • Punishment
  • Ultimatum game

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