Scientists show how social interaction and teamwork lead to human intelligence

Apr 19, 2012

Scientists have discovered proof that the evolution of intelligence and larger brain sizes can be driven by cooperation and teamwork, shedding new light on the origins of what it means to be human. The study appears online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B and was led by scientists at Trinity College Dublin: PhD student, Luke McNally and Assistant Professor Dr Andrew Jackson at the School of Natural Sciences in collaboration with Dr Sam Brown of the University of Edinburgh.

The researchers constructed computer models of artificial organisms, endowed with artificial brains, which played each other in classic games, such as the 'Prisoner's Dilemma', that encapsulate . They used 50 simple brains, each with up to 10 internal processing and 10 associated memory nodes.

The brains were pitted against each other in these classic games. The game was treated as a competition, and just as real life favours successful individuals, so the best of these digital organisms which was defined as how high they scored in the games, less a penalty for the size of their brains were allowed to reproduce and populate the next generation of organisms.

By allowing the brains of these digital organisms to evolve freely in their model the researchers were able to show that the transition to cooperative society leads to the strongest selection for bigger brains. Bigger brains essentially did better as cooperation increased.

The that emerge spontaneously in these bigger, more intelligent brains show complex memory and decision making. Behaviours like forgiveness, patience, deceit and Machiavellian trickery all evolve within the game as individuals try to adapt to their .

"The strongest selection for larger, more intelligent brains, occurred when the social groups were first beginning to start cooperating, which then kicked off an evolutionary Machiavellian arms race of one individual trying to outsmart the other by investing in a larger . Our digital organisms typically start to evolve more complex 'brains' when their societies first begin to develop cooperation." explained Dr Andrew Jackson.

The idea that social interactions underlie the evolution of intelligence has been around since the mid-70s, but support for this hypothesis has come largely from correlative studies where large brains were observed in more social animals. The authors of the current research provide the first evidence that mechanistically links decision making in social interactions with the evolution of intelligence.

This study highlights the utility of evolutionary models of artificial intelligence in answering fundamental biological questions about our own origins.

"Our model differs in that we exploit the use of theoretical experimental evolution combined with artificial neural networks to actually prove that yes, there is an actual cause-and-effect link between needing a large brain to compete against and cooperate with your social group mates."

"Our extraordinary level of intelligence defines mankind and sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. It has given us the arts, science and language, and above all else the ability to question our very existence and ponder the origins of what makes us unique both as individuals and as a species," concluded PhD student and lead author Luke McNally.

Explore further: Fruit colours evolved to please picky birds, study says

Related Stories

Socialising led to bigger brains in some mammals

Nov 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Over millions of years dogs have developed bigger brains than cats because highly social species of mammals need more brain power than solitary animals, according to a study by Oxford University.

Big-brained birds survive better in nature

Jan 10, 2007

Birds with brains that are large in relation to their body size have a lower mortality rate than those with smaller brains, according to new research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sc ...

The protective brain hypothesis is confirmed

Jul 16, 2010

"In the past, it was thought that one of the selective advantages of having a large brain is that it facilitates the development of new behaviour to respond to the ecological challenges that the individual has not experienced ...

Recommended for you

Organismal biologists needed to interpret new trees of life

Jul 16, 2014

Rapidly accumulating data on the molecular sequences of animal genes are overturning some standard zoological narratives about how major animal groups evolved. The turmoil means that biologists should adopt guidelines to ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Squirrel
5 / 5 (1) Apr 19, 2012
PROOF! PROOF! This work may or may not provide a small advance on the problem of origins but using the word "proof" discredits. It offers no such thing. "Proof" means more than "possible suggestive evidence" which is all they have found.
Yogaman
3 / 5 (1) Apr 19, 2012
Um, Squirrel.

Though your definition of proof seems correct, you appear not to have carefully read the article author's sentence. The researchers actually did prove that some brain models can evolve to become bigger and more intelligent, as defined by success in the experiment.
nuge
not rated yet Apr 20, 2012
Um, Yogaman.

That thing you just said (success in the experiment), that's the exact "possible suggestive evidence" that Squirrel was referring to. It does not constitute proof.