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Nice organisms finish first: Why cooperators always win in the long run

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Posted August 1, 2013
"We found evolution will punish you if you're selfish and mean," said lead author Christoph Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. Credit: G.L. Kohuth

“We found evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean,” said lead author Christoph Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. Credit: G.L. Kohuth

Leading physicists last year turned game theory on its head by giving selfish players a sure bet to beat cooperative players. Now two evolutionary biologists at Michigan State University offer new evidence that the selfish will die out in the long run.

 

“We found evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean,” said lead author Christoph Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics. “For a short time and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead. But selfishness isn’t evolutionarily sustainable.”

The paper “Evolutionary instability of Zero Determinant strategies demonstrates that winning isn’t everything,” is co-authored by Arend Hintze, molecular and microbiology research associate, and published in the Aug. 1, 2013 issue of Nature Communications.

Game theory is used in biology, economics, political science and other disciplines. Much of the last 30 years of research has focused on how cooperation came to be, since it’s found in many forms of life, from single-cell organisms to people.

Researchers use the prisoner’s dilemma game as a model to study cooperation. In it, two people have committed a crime and are arrested. Police offer each person a deal: snitch on your friend and go free while the friend spends six months in jail. If both prisoners snitch, they both get three months in jail. If they both stay silent, they both get one month in jail for a lesser offense. If the two prisoners get a chance to talk to each other, they can establish trust and are usually more likely to cooperate because then both of them only spend one month in jail. But if they’re not allowed to communicate, the best strategy is to snitch because it guarantees the snitcher doesn’t get the longer jail term.

Read more at: Phys.org

 

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