Humans Display a 'Cooperative Phenotype' that is Domain General and Temporally Stable

Nature Communications, Forthcoming

43 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2014 Last revised: 9 Aug 2014

See all articles by Alexander Peysakhovich

Alexander Peysakhovich

Yale University - Human Cooperation Lab

Martin Nowak

Harvard University

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: August 8, 2014


Understanding human cooperation is of major interest across the natural and social sciences. But it is unclear to what extent cooperation is actually a general concept. Most research on cooperation has implicitly assumed that a person’s behavior in one cooperative context is related to their behavior in other settings, and at later times. However, there is little empirical evidence in support of this assumption. Here, we provide such evidence by collecting thousands of game decisions from over 1,400 individuals. A person’s decisions in different cooperation games are correlated, as are those decisions and both self-report and real-effort measures of cooperation in non-game contexts. Equally strong correlations exist between cooperative decisions made an average of 124 days apart. Importantly, we find that cooperation is not correlated with norm-enforcing punishment or non-competitiveness. We conclude that there is a domain-general and temporally stable inclination toward paying costs to benefit others, which we dub the ‘cooperative phenotype’.

Keywords: cooperation, altruism, punishment, reciprocity, internal validity, external validity

JEL Classification: C70, C79, C90, C91, C92, D64, D70, D71, H41

Suggested Citation

Peysakhovich, Alexander and Nowak, Martin and Rand, David G., Humans Display a 'Cooperative Phenotype' that is Domain General and Temporally Stable (August 8, 2014). Nature Communications, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Alexander Peysakhovich

Yale University - Human Cooperation Lab ( email )

New Haven, CT
United States

Martin Nowak

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

David G. Rand (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States


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