Karlovitz Lectures

2017 Karlovitz Lecture
Presented by the GT Honors Program and the College of Sciences

Is Human Cooperation an Anomaly?

Lessons from Other Animals


In the 1970s and 80s, humans were as selfish and unaltruistic as the rest of the animal kingdom. Nature was dog-eat-dog. Since the turn of the millennium, however, there has been an attempt to set humans apart. We were declared the only true altruists, and the only genuinely cooperative species. We did not just exhibit regular reciprocity, but strong reciprocity. Behavioral economists began to call human cooperation a “huge anomaly” in the natural world. We were the only ones to care about the welfare of others, and the only ones with joint intentionality. But if all of this were true, how come our best theories about the evolution of cooperation and altruism stem from the study of animal behavior? Every biologist knows that cooperation is ubiquitous. I will argue that the whole movement to elevate human cooperation above the rest is built on sand. We find human-animal continuity in every domain, from empathy, cooperation, partner choice, and the role of oxytocin to reciprocal exchange and the sense of fairness. My review will concern manifestations of these phenomena in anthropoid apes, elephants, rodents and other mammals.

Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal is a Dutch/American biologist and primatologist known for his work on the behavior and social cognition of primates. His scientific work has been published in journals such as Science, Nature, Scientific American, and outlets specialized in animal behavior. His latest book is Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?


Frans de Waal

Living Links, Yerkes National Primate Research Center

Psychology Department, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

Thursday, February 16, 6 pm
Student Center Theater, Georgia Tech
350 Ferst St., NW
Atlanta, GA 30332
Free and open to the public
No tickets or reservations required

Parking $5, Area 2 just west of venue



Past Karlovitz Lectures




Dr. Judson Brewer

Univ. of Mass. Medical School

Dr. Geoffrey West

Santa Fe Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory

Please Pay Attention Now:  It Could Change Your Brain


Growth, Innovation, and the Accelerating Pace of Life From Cells and Ecosystems to Cities and Economies Are They Sustainable?


Dr. Devon Graham

Florida International University

Selfish Altruism:  Making the World a Better Place for All the Wrong Reasons


Dr. Helen Fisher

Rutgers University

 Lust, Romance, Attachment: The Drive to Love and Who We Choose


Dr. Bernd Heinrich

The University of Vermont

From the Bees to the Birds: Research Adventures


Dr. Erich Jarvis
Duke University

Brain Evolution: How Birds and Humans Learn to Sing and Talk


Dr. Nalini Nadkarni
The Evergreen State College

Life in the Treetops: Forest Canopy Research in Rainforest Ecosystems


Dr. Joe Palca

How to Explain the Universe in Two Minutes or Less


Dr. Alan Lightman

The Crossroads of Science and the Arts