Social Incentives and Human Evolution

44 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2009 Last revised: 28 Jun 2011

Date Written: December 7, 2009


I investigate the implications for human evolution of the social incentives commonly applied in human societies, especially the incentives generated through the social status mechanism. These incentives reward diverse traits including intelligence, knowledge, norm-following, language ability, singing ability, heroism, and altruism towards one’s group. Furthermore, the incentives have inclusive fitness implications, resulting in an evolutionary force that has favored many traits which are uniquely exaggerated. I term this evolutionary force “prosocial selection.” I highlight the social and psychological bases of prosocial selection, and compare the altruism that results from prosocial selection, termed “social altruism,” to established theories of altruism.

Keywords: Evolutionary anthropology, social status, altruism, intelligence, language evolution

JEL Classification: Z00, Z1, B52

Suggested Citation

Barradale, Nigel J., Social Incentives and Human Evolution (December 7, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Nigel J. Barradale (Contact Author)

Barradale Asset Management ( email )

United States

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