Survival of the Friendliest: Homo sapiens Evolved via Selection for Prosociality

Annu Rev Psychol. 2017 Jan 3;68:155-186. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010416-044201. Epub 2016 Oct 12.


The challenge of studying human cognitive evolution is identifying unique features of our intelligence while explaining the processes by which they arose. Comparisons with nonhuman apes point to our early-emerging cooperative-communicative abilities as crucial to the evolution of all forms of human cultural cognition, including language. The human self-domestication hypothesis proposes that these early-emerging social skills evolved when natural selection favored increased in-group prosociality over aggression in late human evolution. As a by-product of this selection, humans are predicted to show traits of the domestication syndrome observed in other domestic animals. In reviewing comparative, developmental, neurobiological, and paleoanthropological research, compelling evidence emerges for the predicted relationship between unique human mentalizing abilities, tolerance, and the domestication syndrome in humans. This synthesis includes a review of the first a priori test of the self-domestication hypothesis as well as predictions for future tests.

Keywords: cognitive evolution; domestication; human evolution; self-domestication; social cognition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Communication*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Social Behavior*
  • Temperament*