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The development of tag-based cooperation via a socially acquired trait


Haun,  Daniel B. M.
Comparative Cognitive Anthropology, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, UK;
Comparative Cognitive Anthropology Research Group, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany;

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Cohen, E., & Haun, D. B. M. (2013). The development of tag-based cooperation via a socially acquired trait. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 230-235. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.02.001.

Recent theoretical models have demonstrated that phenotypic traits can support the non-random assortment of cooperators in a population, thereby permitting the evolution of cooperation. In these “tag-based models”, cooperators modulate cooperation according to an observable and hard-to-fake trait displayed by potential interaction partners. Socially acquired vocalizations in general, and speech accent among humans in particular, are frequently proposed as hard to fake and hard to hide traits that display sufficient cross-populational variability to reliably guide such social assortment in fission–fusion societies. Adults’ sensitivity to accent variation in social evaluation and decisions about cooperation is well-established in sociolinguistic research. The evolutionary and developmental origins of these biases are largely unknown, however. Here, we investigate the influence of speech accent on 5–10-year-old children's developing social and cooperative preferences across four Brazilian Amazonian towns. Two sites have a single dominant accent, and two sites have multiple co-existing accent varieties. We found that children's friendship and resource allocation preferences were guided by accent only in sites characterized by accent heterogeneity. Results further suggest that this may be due to a more sensitively tuned ear for accent variation. The demonstrated local-accent preference did not hold in the face of personal cost. Results suggest that mechanisms guiding tag-based assortment are likely tuned according to locally relevant tag-variation.