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Collective narratives catalyse cooperation
journal contributionposted on 2024-01-29, 00:18 authored by CS Gokhale, Joseph BulbuliaJoseph Bulbulia, Marcus FreanMarcus Frean
Humans invest in fantastic stories—mythologies. Recent evolutionary theories suggest that cultural selection may favour moralising stories that motivate prosocial behaviours. A key challenge is to explain the emergence of mythologies that lack explicit moral exemplars or directives. Here, we resolve this puzzle with an evolutionary model in which arbitrary mythologies transform a collection of egoistic individuals into a cooperative. We show how these otherwise puzzling amoral, nonsensical, and fictional narratives act as exquisitely functional coordination devices and facilitate the emergence of trust and cooperativeness in both large and small populations. Especially, in small populations, reflecting earlier hunter-gatherers communities, relative to our contemporary community sizes, the model is robust to the cognitive costs in adopting fictions.