Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Two key steps in the evolution of human cooperation: the interdependence hypothesis

Tomasello, Michael; Melis, Alicia P.; Tennie, Claudio; Wyman, Emily; Herrmann, Esther


Michael Tomasello

Alicia P. Melis

Claudio Tennie

Emily Wyman

Esther Herrmann


Modern theories of the evolution of human cooperation focus mainly on altruism. In contrast, we propose that humans’ species-unique forms of cooperation—as well as their species-unique forms of cognition, communication, and social life—all derive from mutualistic collaboration (with social selection against cheaters). In a first step, humans became obligate collaborative foragers such that individuals were interdependent with one another and so had a direct interest in the well-being of their partners. In this context, they evolved new skills and motivations for collaboration not possessed by other great apes (joint intentionality), and they helped their potential partners (and avoided cheaters). In a second step, these new collaborative skills and motivations were scaled up to group life in general, as modern humans faced competition from other groups. As part of this new group-mindedness, they created cultural conventions, norms, and institutions (all characterized by collective intentionality), with knowledge of a specific set of these marking individuals as members of a particular cultural group. Human cognition and sociality thus became ever more collaborative and altruistic as human individuals became ever more interdependent.


Tomasello, M., Melis, A. P., Tennie, C., Wyman, E., & Herrmann, E. (2012). Two key steps in the evolution of human cooperation: the interdependence hypothesis. Current Anthropology, 53(6),

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Dec 1, 2012
Deposit Date Jan 25, 2016
Publicly Available Date Jan 25, 2016
Journal Current Anthropology
Print ISSN 0011-3204
Electronic ISSN 1537-5382
Publisher University of Chicago Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 53
Issue 6
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Copyright University of Chicago Press.


668207.pdf (270 Kb)

Copyright Statement
Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address:

You might also like

Downloadable Citations