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Looking for unity in diversity: human cooperative childcare in comparative perspective


Burkart, Judith M; van Schaik, Carel P; Griesser, Michael (2017). Looking for unity in diversity: human cooperative childcare in comparative perspective. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 284(1869):20171184.

Abstract

Humans engage in cooperative childcare, which includes some elements not found in other animals, such as the presence of post-reproductive helpers, extensive food sharing among adults and a pervasive sexual division of labour. In animals, cooperative offspring care has typically been studied in two different contexts. The first mainly involves helpers contributing care in cooperatively breeding family groups; the second context is allomaternal care in species usually not categorized as cooperative breeders (e.g. plural and communal breeders, often without male care). Comparative analyses suggest that cooperative breeding and allomaternal care in plural and communal breeders have distinct evolutionary origins, with humans fitting neither pathway entirely. Nevertheless, some critical proximate mechanisms of helping, including hormonal regulators, are likely to be shared across species. Other mechanisms may vary among species, such as social tolerance, proactive prosociality or conditional mother-infant bonding. These are presumably associated with specific details of the care system, such as whether all group members contribute, or whether mothers can potentially raise offspring alone. Thus, cooperative offspring care is seen in different contexts across animal lineages, but may nonetheless share several important psychological characteristics. We end by discussing how work on humans may play a unifying role in studying cooperative offspring care.

Abstract

Humans engage in cooperative childcare, which includes some elements not found in other animals, such as the presence of post-reproductive helpers, extensive food sharing among adults and a pervasive sexual division of labour. In animals, cooperative offspring care has typically been studied in two different contexts. The first mainly involves helpers contributing care in cooperatively breeding family groups; the second context is allomaternal care in species usually not categorized as cooperative breeders (e.g. plural and communal breeders, often without male care). Comparative analyses suggest that cooperative breeding and allomaternal care in plural and communal breeders have distinct evolutionary origins, with humans fitting neither pathway entirely. Nevertheless, some critical proximate mechanisms of helping, including hormonal regulators, are likely to be shared across species. Other mechanisms may vary among species, such as social tolerance, proactive prosociality or conditional mother-infant bonding. These are presumably associated with specific details of the care system, such as whether all group members contribute, or whether mothers can potentially raise offspring alone. Thus, cooperative offspring care is seen in different contexts across animal lineages, but may nonetheless share several important psychological characteristics. We end by discussing how work on humans may play a unifying role in studying cooperative offspring care.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Uncontrolled Keywords:allomaternal care; comparative analyses; cooperative breeding; human evolution
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:28 Dec 2017 15:22
Last Modified:19 Feb 2018 09:48
Publisher:Royal Society Publishing
ISSN:0962-8452
OA Status:Closed
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.1184
PubMed ID:29237848

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