Where did the love come from? Inclusive fitness vs. group selection

Altruism is widespread in the animal world, yet it seems to conflict with the picture of nature “red in tooth and claw” often associated with Evolution. One solution to this apparent paradox is to remember that the unit of selection is never the individual itself but the genes  it carries. Thus, altruism may be explained if the altruist shares genes with the individual it helps in such a way that, while harming itself as an individual, it favors the spread of its genes. This idea of analyzing selection at the level of genes rather than the individual dates back to the 1930s, when Darwin’s theory and Mendelian genetics were first combined to form a unified framework now known as the neo-Darwinian synthesis.

Chimp mother helping her child

Altruism is a common feature of animal behaviour. In this picture, a chimp mother helping another down a tree. Source: The Selfishness of Giving by Frans de Waal on Huffington Post.

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