Conformity and content-biased cultural transmission in the evolution of altruism

Kaleda K. Denton*, Yoav Ram, Marcus W. Feldman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The evolution of altruism has been extensively modeled under the assumption of genetic transmission, whereas the dynamics under cultural transmission are less well understood. Previous research has shown that cultural transmission can facilitate the evolution of altruism by increasing (1) the probability of adopting the altruistic phenotype, and (2) assortment between altruists. We incorporate vertical and oblique transmission, which can be conformist or anti-conformist, into models of parental care, sibling altruism, and altruism between individuals that meet assortatively. If oblique transmission is conformist, it becomes easier for altruism to invade a population of non-altruists as the probability of vertical transmission increases. If oblique transmission is anti-conformist, decreasing vertical transmission facilitates invasion by altruism in the assortative meeting model, whereas in other models, there is a trade-off: greater vertical transmission produces greater assortment among genetically related altruists, but lowers the probability of adopting altruism via anti-conformity. Compared to conditions for invasion under genetic transmission, e.g., Hamilton's rule, we show that invasion can be easier with sufficiently strong anti-conformity, and in some models, with sufficiently high assortment even if oblique transmission is conformist. We also explore invasion by an allele A that increases individuals’ content bias for altruism, in the absence of other forms of cultural transmission. If costs and benefits combine additively, A invades under previously known conditions. If costs and benefits combine multiplicatively, invasion by A and by altruism become more difficult than in the corresponding additive models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-61
Number of pages10
JournalTheoretical Population Biology
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Altruism
  • Anti-conformity
  • Assortative meeting
  • Cooperation
  • Kin selection
  • Oblique cultural transmission


Dive into the research topics of 'Conformity and content-biased cultural transmission in the evolution of altruism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this