Queen Bee
A tagged queen bee is pictured on a honeycomb in Vienna July 11, 2012. Reuters/Lisi Niesner

UK researchers have developed a mathematical model that looks at what makes people nasty or nice. Moreover, the model also looks at the fact why both the types can exist together. University of Exeter’s mathematical ecologist Sasha Dall along with an international team of researchers developed the model with the objective of studying evolution of society in various kinds of species.

The theory of kin selection allowed scientist for a certain time to explain why certain organisms and animals adopt altruistic behaviour at their own expense for the benefit of their relatives. However, up to now, researchers have not had an answer to genetic polymorphism that makes certain people help others while living with some who tend to exploit their generosity. The innovative social evolution model produced allowed researchers how far this is likely to be influenced by the surrounding environment or conditioning.

The study, published in PLOS, found that individual behaviour may evolve to be determined by a set of inherited genetic tendencies that precisely predict social relationships. This includes their likely relatedness to their surroundings and to other members of the society rather than their reaction to what they experience or sense.

“As humans our behaviours are flexible and we base what we are meant to do on what we see after processing information about our world. However, some species rely on inherited instructions on what to do – individuals behave differently according to which specific genetic variants they are born with. What we have been able to show is how you can get a situation where you end up with distinct levels of genetically determined niceness coexisting within populations,” Dall said in a statement.

Professor Olof Leimar of Stockholm University, who is also the lead author, said that genetic polymorphism has not been previously addressed by the social evolution theory. The newly developed model allows the exploration of this within a general framework alongside other behavioural influences. The model was formulated from study of colony-living microbe.