A comparative behavioral research experiment exploring the abilities of chimpanzees and of children to cooperate around a shared resource.
Are humans a cooperative species? Challenges and opportunities for teaching the evolution of human prosociality.
Hanisch, S. & Eirdosh, D. (2021). Are humans a cooperative species? Challenges and opportunities for teaching the evolution of human prosociality. The American Biology Teacher, 83 (6). https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2021.83.6.356
- Evolutionary anthropologists commonly describe humans as a highly cooperative species, based on our evolved socio-cognitive capacities. However, students and the general public may not necessarily share this view about our species. At the same time, fostering our ability to cooperate is considered a key foundation for achieving sustainable development, and students’ understanding of the conditions that enable or hinder cooperation is therefore an important learning goal in sustainability education. In this article, we describe a small classroom activity that explored students’ and preservice biology teachers’ preconceptions about the human capacity to cooperate around shared resources in comparison to the capacity of our closest relative, the chimpanzee. Results indicate that students and teachers had limited knowledge about the evolved human capacity for cooperation around shared resources in small groups, most often viewing chimpanzees as more capable of cooperation and sustainable resource use. Based on the results of this classroom intervention, we highlight important learning opportunities for educators in biology on teaching human evolution and human behavior, particularly as related to current challenges of sustainable development.
- Publication Type OpenEvo Publication
- Concepts Cooperation, Social dilemma
- Relevant subject areas Biology, ESD
- Relevant research methods Student conceptions
- Relevant projects OpenEvo
Related Lesson Materials
- Hanisch, S., Eirdosh, D., & Morgan, T. (2023). Evolving cooperation and sustainability for common pool resources. In X. Sá-Pinto, A. Beniermann, T. Børsen, M. Georgiou, A. Jeffries, P. Pessoa, et al. (Eds.), Learning evolution through socioscientific issues (pp. 127-147). Aveiro: UA Editora. doi:10.17617/2.3486776.
- Sustainable resource management is often a matter of managing common-pool resources (CPRs), which include the social and material resources shared by groups of individuals. CPRs can be prone to overuse through competition between resource users who are motivated to maximise their resource use (or contribute little to the maintenance of the resource) for individual gain and at the expense of group-level sustainability—an outcome known as the Tragedy of the Commons. CPR dilemmas are pervasive in human contexts, ranging from mitigating climate change to sharing public spaces, fighting a pandemic or tackling antimicrobial resistance. Since CPR dilemmas are also found across the non-human living world, sustainability scientists, economists and evolutionary biologists are interested in the dynamics of competition and cooperation around resources. In this chapter, we argue that students’ conceptual understanding of CPR dilemmas through exploration and critical reflections on human and non-human examples is central to developing a basic understanding of sustainability issues more broadly, as well as of evolutionary dynamics that can help explain the evolution of cooperative social behaviours and conflict resolution mechanisms. We provide an overview of the science of CPR dilemmas in the evolution of living systems and human natural resource contexts. Moreover, we present a flexible set of resources that educators in secondary school biology or environmental science can employ to help students engage in cross-cutting concepts, scientific ideas of the life sciences and a range of scientific practices to develop understandings and socioscientific reasoning skills surrounding real-world issues of sustainable resource use.