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Author: John Lazarus

Throughout the organic world cooperation provides mutual benefit but is vulnerable to exploitation from free-riders. Over the last 30 years work in evolutionary biology and game theory has provided understanding of the conditions necessary for the maintenance of cooperation, and advances in gene-culture coevolution theory have extended this understanding to our own species. After a preamble on the evolutionary analysis of behaviour I outline this work. I then consider how cooperation is influenced by environmental adversity and find that in non-human species it is enhanced under these circumstances in a range of taxa. In a sample of human cases the same result is found in a majority, but the opposite effect in some when socioeconomic position is the measure of quality. In anthropological studies of societies living in extremis, again the opposite effect is found. I propose a sigmoid shape for the relationship between adversity and fitness (or human well-being) and a consequent inverted-U shaped relationship between adversity and the benefit of cooperation. Most of the data presented on the relationship between adversity and cooperation are consistent with this proposal. I suggest further tests of the proposal and place the study of cooperation in the broader context of prosociality.

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Author: John Lazarus

How can research evidence on cooperation best be exploited to the advantage of social policy? In this issue we bring together behavioural researchers with expertise in cooperation and social policy practitioners to work together on a series of issues in social policy for which the major challenge is for the players involved to cooperate for the common good. In this introductory paper I first explain the nature of cooperation, its potential for the collective good and the obstacles to achieving that potential. After a brief review of behavioural research applications to social policy, I summarise evidence for the many factors that promote cooperation in experimental and real world settings and that might be employed in the policy arena. These factors represent the influence of a small number of motivational influences including reciprocity, fairness, reputation, group identification and social norms. Analysis of the research findings reveals ways in which the real world difficulties in promoting action for the common good might be overcome. Evolutionary behavioural analysis adds additional insights useful for policy development. Beyond the value of the individual contributions the issue as a whole has the potential to uncover new understanding of the relationships between policy problems and their solutions.

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