How cooperative behaviour may change across generations is described in research published online in Nature Communications this week.
While human societies are extraordinarily cooperative, in comparison with other social species, the question of why we cooperate with unrelated individuals remains open.
Moreno and colleagues report the results of a lab-in-the-field experiment with people of different ages in a social dilemma. They found that the average amount of cooperativeness is independent of age except for the elderly, who cooperate more. They also found that children and young teenagers don’t appear to base the decision to cooperate on their own past decisions, but mostly respond to what they see others doing.
This indicates that mechanisms such as reciprocity, which is based on reacting to previous actions, may promote cooperation in general, but its influence can be hindered by fluctuating behaviour in the case of children and young teenagers. However, further research with a larger sample size is needed before specific strategies to foster prosocial behaviour in youth can be developed.