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Social structure facilitated the evolution of care-giving as a strategy for disease control in the human lineage.

Kessler, Sharon E. and Bonnell, Tyler R. and Setchell, Joanna M. and Chapman, Colin A. (2018) 'Social structure facilitated the evolution of care-giving as a strategy for disease control in the human lineage.', Scientific reports., 8 (1). p. 13997.


Humans are the only species to have evolved cooperative care-giving as a strategy for disease control. A synthesis of evidence from the fossil record, paleogenomics, human ecology, and disease transmission models, suggests that care-giving for the diseased evolved as part of the unique suite of cognitive and socio-cultural specializations that are attributed to the genus Homo. Here we demonstrate that the evolution of hominin social structure enabled the evolution of care-giving for the diseased. Using agent-based modeling, we simulate the evolution of care-giving in hominin networks derived from a basal primate social system and the three leading hypotheses of ancestral human social organization, each of which would have had to deal with the elevated disease spread associated with care-giving. We show that (1) care-giving is an evolutionarily stable strategy in kin-based cooperatively breeding groups, (2) care-giving can become established in small, low density groups, similar to communities that existed before the increases in community size and density that are associated with the advent of agriculture in the Neolithic, and (3) once established, care-giving became a successful method of disease control across social systems, even as community sizes and densities increased. We conclude that care-giving enabled hominins to suppress disease spread as social complexity, and thus socially-transmitted disease risk, increased.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© The Author(s) 2018 Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. Te images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:21 August 2018
Date deposited:20 September 2018
Date of first online publication:27 September 2018
Date first made open access:No date available

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