Don’t blink.

This lecture in Dunedin, sponsored by the Allan Wilson Centre, was well attended.  The St. David’s Theatre was close to full and entry was by a free ticket.  The lecture was presented by visiting lecturer Lee Dugatkin.

Altruism: Doing something to benefit others at a cost to one’s self.  The example cited was the ground squirrel that stands up and gives the warning signal to others that danger is approaching, an action that places the sentry most at risk.

The formula for altruism in evolution is based on three elements:

  1. Genetic relatedness
  2. The cost of the altruistic act
  3. The benefict associated with altruism.

Hamilton’s Rule states altruism evolves when 1 x 3 > 2.  The cost of altruism must be compensated by benefited by helping kin.  In the example of the ground squirrels the sentry who calls out the preditor and places herself at risk is most likely to be a mother in the colony.  Breeding females stay in the colony while breeding males move out to join other colonies.  The breeding females have the most investment in the survival of the colony above their own survival.

Altruism should be more common among close relatives than distant relatives.  Kinship through females is more certain than kinship through males.  (My baby doesn’t look like me, do you think her father is seeing someone else?)  Willingness to help increases down female related descent.

Reciprocity, or utu in Maori, keeps score.  We will share with the one who shared with us to keep us alive.  Monkeys believe in fairness and will reject food if an other is getting something better food.  The parable of the vineyard workers seems unfair to us monkeys, We have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, and you have made them equal to us.

Altruism triggers pleasure centres in the brain, and rewards fairness.  We are wired that way.