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The co-evolution of social institutions, demography, and large-scale human cooperation

Powers, Simon T.; Lehmann, Laurent


Simon T. Powers

Laurent Lehmann


Human cooperation is typically coordinated by institutions, which determine the outcome structure of the social interactions individuals engage in. Explaining the Neolithic transition from small‐ to large‐scale societies involves understanding how these institutions co‐evolve with demography. We study this using a demographically explicit model of institution formation in a patch‐structured population. Each patch supports both social and asocial niches. Social individuals create an institution, at a cost to themselves, by negotiating how much of the costly public good provided by cooperators is invested into sanctioning defectors. The remainder of their public good is invested in technology that increases carrying capacity, such as irrigation systems. We show that social individuals can invade a population of asocials, and form institutions that support high levels of cooperation. We then demonstrate conditions where the co‐evolution of cooperation, institutions, and demographic carrying capacity creates a transition from small‐ to large‐scale social groups.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 12, 2013
Online Publication Date Sep 10, 2013
Publication Date 2013-11
Deposit Date Jun 22, 2018
Publicly Available Date Jun 22, 2018
Journal Ecology Letters
Print ISSN 1461-023X
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 16
Issue 11
Pages 1356-1364
Keywords Agriculture, cooperation, institutions, irrigation, large‐scale societies, Neolithic Demographic Transition, punishment, tragedy of the commons,
Public URL
Contract Date Jun 22, 2018


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