Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Spiteful behaviors occur when an actor harms its own fitness to inflict harm on the fitness of others. Several papers have predicted that spite can be favored in sufficiently small populations, even when the harming behavior is directed indiscriminately at others. However, it is not clear that truly spiteful behavior could be favored without the harm being directed at a subset of social partners with relatively low genetic similarity to the actor (kin discrimination, causing a negative relatedness between actor and harmed recipient). Using mathematical models, we show that (1) the evolution of spite requires kin discrimination; (2) previous models suggesting indiscriminate spite involve scenarios where the actor gains a direct feedback benefit from harming others, and so the harming is selfish rather than spiteful; (3) extreme selfishness can be favored in small populations (or, more generally, under local competition) because this is where the direct feedback benefit of harming is greatest.

Original publication




Journal article


Evol Lett

Publication Date





65 - 72


Competition, harming, inclusive fitness, kin selection, social evolution, super‐territory, territory size