Cooperation has been described as an enduring evolutionary conundrum. Our primary objective is to discover genetic influences on distinct aspects of cooperative behaviour that have been conserved through evolution. We aim to distinguish the strategic (economic) from the social dimension of the behaviour within dyadic interactions. We further aim to identify the genetic substrates of these dimensions.
Our internationally reputed group of experts will study cooperation in diverse species (humans, primates, rats, mice, crows and titmice) from a variety of perspectives. The operational definition of cooperation has recently been called into question. The use of simple game-theoretical models to study cooperative behaviour has been criticised on the grounds that it is unduly artificial and restrictive. We will devise novel empirical methodologies, which take greater account of the role of communication between conspecifics than traditional game-theoretic models.
We propose a set of empirical studies, guided by two overarching theoretical imperatives. First, the notion of cooperation is reassessed. Second, an alternative model is derived, incorporating unique aspects of human cooperative behaviour. Genetic influences on cooperative behaviour may have been conserved through evolution.
We aim to find genes that influence strategic and communicative (social-reward) elements of cooperation, initially in humans. A novel internet-based testing strategy will identify subjects for genomic linkage studies. Quantitative trait loci will be discovered using identity-by-descent allele sharing between sibships, conditional on observed trait values. Candidate genes will then be identified. The hypothesis that syntenic gene function is conserved in other species will be tested.
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Funding SchemeSTREP - Specific Targeted Research Project