Evolutionary perspectives on human cooperation in sport

David, Gwendolyn Kim (2014). Evolutionary perspectives on human cooperation in sport PhD Thesis, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland.

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Author David, Gwendolyn Kim
Thesis Title Evolutionary perspectives on human cooperation in sport
School, Centre or Institute School of Biological Sciences
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2014-01-14
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Wilson, Robbie S.
Daniel Ortiz-Barrientos
Michelle Smith
Total pages 75
Total black and white pages 75
Language eng
Subjects 0602 Ecology
0603 Evolutionary Biology
Formatted abstract
Understanding human behaviour from an evolutionary perspective remains a contentious and passionate topic captivating both scientific and non-academic audiences. In particular, one question that continues to intrigue evolutionary scientists is why and how cooperation among non-relatives is favoured by selection, as it may impose a substantial cost to the individual that expresses but benefits others. Cooperation among non-relatives is expected to evolve when cooperators gain a mutual benefit – either immediately or in the future. The benefits of cooperation are evident in historical lethal warfare: if greater levels of cooperation resulted in victory for an army by providing a competitive edge over another, then cooperation should be favoured by selection. Though intergroup competition is expected to have played a pivotal role in the evolution of human cooperation, support for this premise is limited. Tests of theoretical predictions and support for experimental findings using real-world cases of intergroup competition will greatly enhance our understanding of the evolution of cooperation.

The overarching aim of my thesis was to empirically examine why and how cooperation among non-relatives is maintained in one of the purest forms of intergroup competition - competitive soccer. To examine why cooperation is maintained, I first tested the prediction that greater cooperative behaviour is associated with increased chances of gaining shared benefits (match-wins) in high-profile soccer competitions (Chapters 2 and 5). To identify how cooperation provides a benefit to a team, I also examined whether levels of cooperative behaviour are associated with player abilities (Chapters 3 and 5) and enforcement by referees (Chapter 4 and 5) in competitive soccer. Specifically, in Chapter 2, I used detailed statistical data on individual skilled and physical performances in high-profile soccer competitions to empirically test the prediction that greater cooperative behaviour within a team (networking, contributing effort and division of labour) is associated with higher proficiency in shooting at goal, and in turn winning success. I found that greater levels of networking behaviour were associated with increased proficiency in shooting at goal, and in turn winning matches. In Chapter 3, I empirically examined how individual ability contributes to expressed levels of cooperation within a team. Using semi-professional soccer players, I measured individual physical and technical ability in non-match tests, and recorded footage of cooperative efforts within a team in competitive matches. I found that the level of cooperation expressed by an individual within a team was positively associated with their personal technical ability. In Chapter 4, I investigated how levels of tactical deception (simulated fouls) by teams were associated with out-group enforcement by referees. Using televised matches from high-profile professional soccer leagues, I quantified the use of tactical deception by teams (ie.simulation and dangerous tackling fouls) and enforcement by referees (punishing and wrongly rewarding fouls). I showed that tactical deception by teams increased when referees were more likely to wrongly reward it. Finally, in Chapter 5, I tested the prediction that individuals will use tactical deception more often when the likelihood of gaining a goal for the team improves. Based on the probabilities of referee responses to fouls and scoring from shots at goal (free-kicks and in open-play) in professional soccer leagues, I calculated the likelihood of gaining a goal from tactical deception. My results showed that the prevalence of tactical deception by teams increased exponentially with the likelihood of gaining a goal – a function of referee enforcement and scoring ability. The collective results of my thesis demonstrate that the levels of cooperative behaviours by players and referees were associated with their abilities and the likelihood of a shared group benefit in competitive soccer. My thesis provides empirical support for the idea that intergroup competition played an important role in the evolution of human cooperation, by maintaining cooperative behaviours that provide a competitive edge.
Keyword Behaviour
Intergroup competition
Animal signalling

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Created: Tue, 14 Jan 2014, 11:51:06 EST by Gwendolyn David on behalf of Scholarly Communication and Digitisation Service