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Understanding the ultimate and proximate mechanisms that favour cooperation remains one of the greatest challenges in the biological and social sciences. A number of theoretical studies have suggested that competition between groups may have played a key role in the evolution of cooperation within human societies, and similar ideas have been discussed for other organisms, especially cooperative breeding vertebrates. However, there is a relative lack of empirical work testing these ideas. Our experiment found, in public goods games with humans, that when groups competed with other groups for financial rewards, individuals made larger contributions within their own groups. In such situations, participants were more likely to regard their group mates as collaborators rather than competitors. Variation in contribution among individuals, either with or without intergroup competition, was positively correlated with individuals' propensity to regard group mates as collaborators. We found that the levels of both guilt and anger individuals experienced were a function of their own contributions and those of their group mates. Overall, our results are consistent with the idea that the level of cooperation can be influenced by proximate emotions, which vary with the degree of intergroup competition. © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Evolution and Human Behavior

Publication Date





104 - 108