Constructing the Cooperative Niche

Kim Sterelny*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Humans contrast with their great ape relatives in many ways, but one of the most striking is our richly cooperative social lives. The explanation of this difference is complex and multi-factorial. But this paper argues that one central element is niche construction. Hominins are inveterate and extensive niche constructors. Individually and collectively, we have deeply affected our physical and biological environment, and have used technology to filter and transform the selective effects of the changed physical and biology worlds in which we have lived. But members of our lineage have not just acted on physical and biological environments; they have organised their informational environment too. Not just their own, but that of the next generation. While intensive and active teaching is probably a recent phenomenon, teaching itself is not. Furthermore, adults structure the learning environment of the next generation in many other ways: by acting as models of adult life; by providing supervised, safer environments; by providing toys, tools and props that structure and support trial and error learning. So the skills, values, ideas, information, and expected modes of social interaction and behaviour are made accessible to the next generation. This happens in circumstances which have often been adapted to enhance learning. The main theme of this paper is to show that humans cooperate more than other great apes largely because they reconstruct their environment more than other great apes, and one aspect of that reconstruction has been to make a world in which cooperation could survive and expand.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationHistory, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences
    PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
    Number of pages19
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

    Publication series

    NameHistory, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences
    ISSN (Print)2211-1948
    ISSN (Electronic)2211-1956


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