A Trusting Ecology: How Neural Mechanisms and Environments Interact to Enable Cooperative Behavior
Posted: 16 May 2010
Date Written: May 14, 2010
Recent research into the neurobiology of trust allows us to construct a tentative cradle-to-grave understanding of how social creatures like ourselves come to engage in cooperative behavior. Innovative work ranging from the molecular neurotransmitter level up to that of neural systems enables insight into how we sustain cooperation using important neural mechanisms such as theory of mind. This work has been complemented by an understanding of the environments which sustain appropriate use of those mechanisms, including trust-related “scaffolding” generated by social and cultural mechanisms (such as extra-legal conventions and norms). Using metaphors from the science of evolutionary development, I argue that just as that science has progressed leveraging an ecological approach to development, we need a similarly robust co-evolutionary approach that places equal weight on “mechanism” and “environment” to gain insight into generating and sustaining cooperative behavior in human beings.
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