Schoolchildren cooperate more successfully with non-kin than with siblings

Gladys Barragan, Maxime Cauchoix, Anne Regnier, Marie Bourjade, Astrid Hopfensitz, and Alexis Chaine


Cooperation plays a key role in the development of advanced societies and can be stabilized through shared genes (kinship) or reciprocation. In humans, cooperation among kin occurs more readily than cooperation among non-kin. In many organisms, cooperation can shift with age (e.g. helpers at the nest); however, little is known about developmental shifts between kin and non-kin cooperation in humans. Using a cooperative game, we show that 3- to 10-year-old French schoolchildren cooperated less successfully with siblings than with non-kin children, whether or not non-kin partners were friends. Furthermore, children with larger social networks cooperated better and the perception of friendship among non-friends improved after cooperating. These results contrast with the well-established preference for kin cooperation among adults and indicate that non-kin cooperation in humans might serve to forge and extend non-kin social relationships during middle childhood and create opportunities for future collaboration beyond kin. Our results suggest that the current view of cooperation in humans may only apply to adults and that future studies should focus on how and why cooperation with different classes of partners might change during development in humans across cultures as well as other long-lived organisms.

Published in

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 288, n. 1944, February 2021