Empathy Is the Secret Ingredient That Makes Cooperation — and Civilization — Possible

Arunas L. Radzvilavicius: Human societies are so prosperous mostly because of how altruistic we are. Unlike other animals, people cooperate even with complete strangers. We share knowledge on Wikipedia, we show up to vote, and we work together to responsibly manage natural resources. But where do these cooperative skills come from and why don’t our selfish instincts overwhelm them? Using a branch of mathematics called evolutionary game theory to explore this feature of human societies, my collaborators and I found that empathy — a uniquely human capacity to take another person’s perspective — might be responsible for sustaining such extraordinarily high levels of cooperation in modern societies.

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