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The origin of social networks and co-operation

If this were so, how much would the social network primigénias to current social networks? And what role they may have had networks in the emergence of cooperation among humans?

These are the questions that try to answer Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, the famous authors of the work are Connected, in a new study that has been published today in the journal Nature.

Of course, we cannot directly observe human societies ancient, but yes that we could try to study societies that, at present, to behave as they are supposed to did our ancestors. That is precisely what they have done Christakis and Fowler, with the help of the researcher Coren Apicella, by studying a tribe Hadza of Tanzania.

The Hadza are an ethnic group who live in the region of lake Eyasi, according to a life style of hunters – gatherers.

Apicella was in charge of collecting the field data (following the advice of the anthropologist Frank Marlow), interviewing 205 adult in the transcuros of two months.

Apicella estimated their tendency to cooperate and tracking their ties of friendship. How?: in one of two ways:

On the one hand, Apicella asked individuals to identify those other members of the group with which they would like to live in your next settlement.

On the other, they gave each adult a stick of honey (one of the favorite foods of the Hadza), and asked them to offer the bar as a gift to those people in his camp who wished to.

These activities allowed us to generate of 1,263 relations of friendship in the field, and 426 relations mediated by the gift of the bar.

In addition, we estimated the levels of cooperation by providing the Hadza bars of honey additional, so that they could keep for themselves or share them with other members of the group.

The networks obtained were analyzed, which allowed the researchers to reach the conclusion that the structure and the dynamics of the social networks of the Hadza is, in essence, equal to that of the networks of modern communities.

Some of the features of the networks of the Hadza identified by the team were:

  • Transtividad
  • Reciprocity
  • Impairment geographical
  • Homofilia
  • High degree of variation inter-group, but low degree of variation of intra-group, the donation of public goods
  • Greater probability of establishing ties between individuals that shared in an equitable way
  • Two degrees of separation in cooperative behaviors

According to the authors of the study, these results offer new evidence for the ancestral nature of the social networks, and can even be a part of the human history.

On the other hand, the researchers argue that the results may also shed light on the origin of cooperation. And that is, para that the behaviors of cooperation can take place, we need some system that allows cooperators to interact with other individuals. And, of course, that system would be the social networks.

As it says Apicella in a press release from the study, if the cooperators can be grouped together in a social space, cooperation can evolve. According to Apicella, the social networks allow this to occur.

However, we should be careful with statements like this. And is that the truth of this idea depends on what we understand by “cooperation” and “social network”. To understand why, let’s take a quick look at the process of natural selection.

The selection mechanism is more basic in that in which a physical environment imposes a pressure on the fitness of survival of the individuals. This pressure can be in the form of weather conditions, shortage of resources or access to the breeding pairs. Thanks to the process of random genetic mutations, some individuals may improve their skills breeding, so their genes will eventually spread in the population.

One way to improve this transmission of genes is the care of the offspring. This is one of the meanings of “cooperation”: the altruistic behavior between related individuals genetically.

The environment that exerts pressure on individuals can be not only physical, but also social: the diverse relations that are established between individuals of a group related by blood, but also between individuals of different groups. This second type of cooperation, the so-called altruism, reciprocal (I will scratch my back if you scratch mine) you can end up improving the skills breeding of the indviduos particular. Thus, individuals with better disposicines to cooperate will end up triumphing in the population, so that at the end we will have individuals who, in general, are willing to cooperate. In other words: in the end, you’ll end up having structures formed by social networks between individuals.

But it is important to understand that reciprocal altruism is a variation of the altruism between individuals related genetically. We can understand this idea another way: the altruism between unrelated individuals can only be given if the provisions that allow for altruism are already there.

Thus, the system that allows cooperators to interact with other individuals, and that facilitates the emergence of cooperation, cannot be the core of individuals related genetically. Social networks would be an extension of this behavior, acting subsequently as an enhancer of the same, in what one might call a co-evolution.

In short: be careful you do not submit to the social networks as the cause of the evolution of cooperation, but as a result of disposiones cooperation more basic.


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