Cooperation and conflict: field experiments in Northern Ireland.

Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society

PubMedID: 25143042

Silva AS, Mace R. Cooperation and conflict: field experiments in Northern Ireland. Proc Biol Sci. 2014;281(1792):.
The idea that cohesive groups, in which individuals help each other, have a competitive advantage over groups composed of selfish individuals has been widely suggested as an explanation for the evolution of cooperation in humans. Recent theoretical models propose the coevolution of parochial altruism and intergroup conflict, when in-group altruism and out-group hostility contribute to the group's success in these conflicts. However, the few empirical attempts to test this hypothesis do not use natural groups and conflate measures of in-group and unbiased cooperative behaviour. We conducted field experiments based on naturalistic measures of cooperation (school/charity donations and lost letters' returns) with two religious groups with an on-going history of conflict-Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Conflict was associated with reduced donations to out-group schools and the return of out-group letters, but we found no evidence that it influences in-group cooperation. Rather, socio-economic status was the major determinant of cooperative behaviour. Our study presents a challenge to dominant perspectives on the origins of human cooperation, and has implications for initiatives aiming to promote conflict resolution and social cohesion.