Imitation breeds war in new evolutionary theory | 9/9/2008 | Staff
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Painting of men and a hand in the Cave of the Swimmers, Wadi Sura, Western Desert, Egypt. Credit: Roland Unger. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

When anthropologists consider the origins of warfare, their evolutionary theories tend to boil it down to the resource-scarcity trifecta of food, territory and mates—three resources that would justify the loss of life and risk to a warring group of hunter-gatherers.

Researchers - University - Colorado - Denver - University

But researchers from University of Colorado Denver, University of British Columbia and University of Santiago, Chile, created an evolutionary mathematical model to unearth a fourth theory. They found that acculturation—the adoption and imitation of a victor's culture following defeat—could promote the evolution of intergroup conflicts. In other words, groups may evolve to fight for fighting's sake, despite the costs.

The study was published last week in the journal PNAS.

Evolution - Cooperation - Altruism—paradoxes - Theory - Survival

"I've researched the evolution of cooperation and altruism—paradoxes in the conventional evolutionary theory of survival of the fittest—by group selection, but in this case, we wanted to understand the evolution of intergroup conflict," said Burton Simon, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics at CU Denver, who has worked as a sort of "mathematical anthropologist" for the last decade.

The researchers' mathematical model is based on two classes of people: warriors, who specialize in intergroup conflicts and have a low birth rate, and shepherds, who cannot defend themselves but are highly reproductive. The amount of each within a group depended on the probability that an offspring becomes a warrior or shepherd, a cultural trait passed vertically from one generation to the next.

Study - Group - Dynamics - Types - Events

The study determined group dynamics through three types of events: group extinctions (a whole group dies, e.g., as the result of a drought or a bad crop), fissions (when an overly large group splits into two) and...
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