The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation

Posted: 5 Feb 2021

See all articles by Joseph Henrich

Joseph Henrich

Harvard University; Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)

Michael Muthukrishna

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Date Written: January 2021


Humans are an ultrasocial species. This sociality, however, cannot be fully explained by the canonical approaches found in evolutionary biology, psychology, or economics. Understanding our unique social psychology requires accounting not only for the breadth and intensity of human cooperation but also for the variation found across societies, over history, and among behavioral domains. Here, we introduce an expanded evolutionary approach that considers how genetic and cultural evolution, and their interaction, may have shaped both the reliably developing features of our minds and the well-documented differences in cultural psychologies around the globe. We review the major evolutionary mechanisms that have been proposed to explain human cooperation, including kinship, reciprocity, reputation, signaling, and punishment; we discuss key culture–gene coevolutionary hypotheses, such as those surrounding self-domestication and norm psychology; and we consider the role of religions and marriage systems. Empirically, we synthesize experimental and observational evidence from studies of children and adults from diverse societies with research among nonhuman primates.

Suggested Citation

Henrich, Joseph and Muthukrishna, Michael, The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation (January 2021). Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 72, pp. 207-240, 2021, Vol. 72, pp. 207-240, Available at SSRN: or

Joseph Henrich (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)

180 Dundas Street West, Suite 1400
Toronto, Ontario

Michael Muthukrishna

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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