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Keywords:

  • Altruism;
  • cheating;
  • enforcement;
  • group selection;
  • hypocrisy;
  • multilevel selection;
  • public good;
  • punishment;
  • selfishness

The question of how altruism can evolve despite its local disadvantage to selfishness has produced a wealth of theoretical and empirical research capturing the attention of scientists across disciplines for decades. One feature that has remained consistent through this outpouring of knowledge has been that researchers have looked to the altruists themselves for mechanisms by which altruism can curtail selfishness. An alternative perspective may be that just as altruists want to limit selfishness in the population, so may the selfish individuals themselves. These alternative perspectives have been most evident in the fairly recent development of enforcement strategies. Punishment can effectively limit selfishness in the population, but it is not free. Thus, when punishment evolves among altruists, the double costs of exploitation from cheaters and punishment make the evolution of punishment problematic. Here we show that punishment can more readily invade selfish populations when associated with selfishness, whereas altruistic punishers cannot. Thereafter, the establishment of altruism because of enforcement by selfish punishers provides the ideal invasion conditions for altruistic punishment, effectively creating a transition of punishment from selfishness to altruistic. Thus, from chaotic beginnings, a little hypocrisy may go a long way in the evolution and maintenance of altruism.