Cultural transmission can inhibit the evolution of altruistic helping.
Lehmann L., Feldman MW., Foster KR.
The study of culturally inherited traits has led to the suggestion that the evolution of helping behaviors is more likely with cultural transmission than without. Here we evaluate this idea through a comparative analysis of selection on helping under both genetic and cultural inheritance. We develop two simple models for the evolution of helping through cultural group selection: one in which selection on the trait depends solely on Darwinian fitness effects and one in which selection is driven by nonreproductive factors, specifically imitation of strategies achieving higher payoffs. We show that when cultural variants affect Darwinian fitness, the selection pressure on helping can be markedly increased relative to that under genetic transmission. By contrast, when variants are driven by nonreproductive factors, the selection pressure on helping may be reduced relative to that under genetic inheritance. This occurs because, unlike biological offspring, the spread of cultural variants from one group to another through imitation does not reduce the number of these variants in the source group. As a consequence, there is increased within-group competition associated with traits increasing group productivity, which reduces the benefits of helping. In these cases, selection for harming behavior (decreasing the payoff to neighbors) may occur rather than selection for helping.