From an evolutionary perspective, morality is a form of cooperation. Cooperation requires individuals either to suppress their own self-interest or to equate it with that of others. We review recent research on the origins of human morality, both phylogenetic (research with apes) and ontogenetic (research with children). For both time frames we propose a two-step sequence: first a second-personal morality in which individuals are sympathetic or fair to particular others, and second an agent-neutral morality in which individuals follow and enforce group-wide social norms. Human morality arose evolutionarily as a set of skills and motives for cooperating with others, and the ontogeny of these skills and motives unfolds in part naturally and in part as a result of sociocultural contexts and interactions.

Keyword(s): altrusimevolutionfairnessjustice

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A Lecture in Psychology: Origins of Human Cooperation and Morality

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  In this video Michael Tomasello shares footage of chimpanzees and of toddlers collaborating, showing that while cooperation exists among other primates, it is much more developed in our societies, even among very young humans. Children have a stronger sense of egalitarianism, and do a better job of suppressing their self-interest when they cooperate on a task. Not only that, they are capable of demonstrating norm-based group-mindedness, another form of collaboration.

  • Article Type: Review Article
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