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How Cooperation Can Evolve in a Cheaterís World
Brown University ^ | 29 June 2006 | Staff (press release)

Posted on 06/29/2006 4:40:30 PM PDT by PatrickHenry

Whether you’re a free-loading virus or a meat-stealing monkey, selfishness pays. So how could cooperators survive in a cheater’s world? Thomas Flatt, a postdoctoral research associate at Brown, was part of a group that created a theoretical model that neatly solves this dilemma, which has stumped evolutionary biologists and social scientists for decades. The trick: Keep the altruists in small groups, away from the swindling horde, where they multiply and migrate.

It’s a truth borne out in biology and economics: Selfishness pays. Viruses can steal enzymes to reproduce. Tax evaders can take advantage of public services to survive and thrive. And, according to game theory, the cheats win out over the altruists every time.

Yet cooperation is a hallmark of human society, allowing for the creation of everything from the local grange to the United Nations. Cooperation can also be found in the animal world. Lions hunt in packs. Ants and bees create colonies. So how could cooperation evolve in a cheater’s world?

It’s a paradox called the “tragedy of the commons,” a conflict between individual interests and the common good that has stumped scientists for generations. Now a trio of researchers, including a Brown University biologist, has created a unique theoretical model that can explain the rise of cooperation. Under their model, altruists not only survive, they thrive and maintain their numbers over time. The work appears in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

“What’s exciting about our approach is that is so simple and so general – in principle it can be applied to explain cooperation at all levels of biological complexity, from bugs to humans,” said Thomas Flatt, a postdoctoral research associate in Brown’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. “It’s also exciting because cooperation is a critical notion in so many disciplines, from biology to sociology. Yet its existence and persistence doesn’t always make sense. Now we have a new mechanism that explains when cooperation can work.”

Timothy Killingback, a mathematician at the College of William & Mary, led work on the model. It’s based on public goods games, a staple of game theory and a simple model of social dilemmas.

Under the typical public goods game, an experimenter gives four players a pot of money. Each player can invest all or some of the money into a common pool. The experimenter then collects money thrown into the pool, doubles it and divides it amongst the players. The outcome: If every player invests all the money, every player wins big. If every player cheats by investing a just few dollars, every player reaps a small dividend. But if a cooperator squares off against a cheater – with the altruist investing more than the swindler – the swindler always gets the bigger payoff. Cheating, in short, is a winning survival strategy.

Under the new model, the team introduced population dynamics into the public goods game.

Players were broken into groups and played with other members of their group. Each player then reproduced in proportion to the payoff they received from playing the game, passing their cooperator or cheater strategy on to their offspring. After reproduction, random mutations occurred, changing how much an individual invests. Finally, players randomly dispersed to other groups, bringing their investment strategies with them. The result was an ever-changing cast of characters creating groups of various sizes.

After running the model through 100,000 generations, the results were striking. Cooperators not only survived, they thrived and maintained their numbers over time. The key is group size.

“In our model, you can get groups of different sizes – and cooperators seem to flourish in smaller groups,” Flatt said.

“In these smaller groups, the high investments of cooperators begin to pay off. Cooperators have a higher level of fitness, so they reproduce at higher rates. This allows them to get a toehold within a group, then dominate it, then send their offspring to spread their altruism elsewhere.”

The model created by Killingback, Flatt, and Jonas Bieri, a Swiss population biologist and computer programmer, is unlike any other. It relies solely on population dynamics to explain the evolution of cooperation. Most other models assume more complicated mechanisms such as kin selection, punishment and reciprocity. Some of those mechanisms require cognition, so those models can only be applied to humans and higher-order animals.

The paper is available online or may be downloaded in pdf from the June 22, 2006, issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B: BiologicalSciences.

The Swiss National Science Foundation and the Roche Research Foundation funded the work.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: cheater; cheaters; cooperation; crevolist; cultureofdeath; game; gametheory; malthusianism; model; theory
Everybody be nice.
1 posted on 06/29/2006 4:40:32 PM PDT by PatrickHenry
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To: VadeRetro; Junior; longshadow; RadioAstronomer; Doctor Stochastic; js1138; Shryke; RightWhale; ...
Evolution Ping

The List-O-Links
A conservative, pro-evolution science list, now with over 380 names.
See the list's explanation, then FReepmail to be added or dropped.
To assist beginners: But it's "just a theory", Evo-Troll's Toolkit,
and How to argue against a scientific theory.

2 posted on 06/29/2006 4:41:46 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: PatrickHenry

Good post! Thanks.


3 posted on 06/29/2006 4:42:13 PM PDT by RadioAstronomer (Senior member of Darwin Central)
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To: PatrickHenry

Rats! Missed beating the ping by less than a minute.


4 posted on 06/29/2006 4:42:56 PM PDT by RadioAstronomer (Senior member of Darwin Central)
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To: RadioAstronomer

What is this? Now we're going to try to be IB4TP?


5 posted on 06/29/2006 4:46:34 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: PatrickHenry
I think Freakonomics also said the same thing.
6 posted on 06/29/2006 4:47:31 PM PDT by King Moonracer
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To: PatrickHenry

The key to optimum survival seems to be a method to detect cheaters and avoid interacting with them. Cooperators interacting with cooperators will prosper. Cheaters cheating other cheaters will die off


7 posted on 06/29/2006 4:51:08 PM PDT by SauronOfMordor (A planned society is most appealing to those with the arrogance to think they will be the planners)
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To: PatrickHenry

Too cool.


8 posted on 06/29/2006 4:51:12 PM PDT by Junior (Identical fecal matter, alternate diurnal period)
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To: PatrickHenry
Yet cooperation is a hallmark of human society, allowing for the creation of everything from the local grange to the United Nations.

I am confused. Is the United Nations an example of people working cooperatively together for the common good or of a bunch of a parasites whose sole goal in life (other than picking up a taxpayer funded paycheck) is to prevent the fruits of liberty and capitalism from being spread throughout the world.

9 posted on 06/29/2006 4:54:09 PM PDT by vbmoneyspender
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To: vbmoneyspender

You must realize that the cooperators are also cheaters they have just figured out that cheating is more efficient when alot of people act together to cheat. Thus the UN is born


10 posted on 06/29/2006 4:55:46 PM PDT by Sentis (You said the world doesn't need salvation so why do I hear it calling out for a Savior.)
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To: vbmoneyspender
I am confused.

It's a press release from a Yankee university. I doubt that the UN is mentioned in the actual paper.

11 posted on 06/29/2006 4:56:29 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: vbmoneyspender

I'm reminded of New Orleans. Its citizens did not function as a cooperating small group, but looked to the State and Federal Governments. As a result, the cheaters bilked the intimidated FEMA Handout Brigade of billions and the city is still largely just undertaking the most rudimentary forms of rebuilding. Ditto with the UN. Power to the People - on the local level.


12 posted on 06/29/2006 4:59:55 PM PDT by Socratic ("I'll have the roast duck with the mango salsa.")
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To: PatrickHenry

Sounds like a load to me! Cooperation thrives so long as the group is kept small and cognition is not factored in? So communism and socialism won't work because it's too big or because it's incognitive?
Ayn Rand was right, self interest works and it isn't cheating!


13 posted on 06/29/2006 5:03:57 PM PDT by outofsalt ("If History teaches us anything it's that history rarely teaches us anything")
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To: vbmoneyspender
The original paper is here: Evolution in group-structured populations can resolve the tragedy of the commons. Without a subscription, I can't read anything but the abstract. The UN isn't mentioned. Gotta blame a Brown journalism major.
14 posted on 06/29/2006 5:04:55 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: PatrickHenry

The most cooperative species ever seen on earth are insects colony's...

They have no intellect.

Female mates once. All in the colony are females, are all sisters and no males are produced until the colony needs to split up...


15 posted on 06/29/2006 5:08:00 PM PDT by TASMANIANRED (The Internet is the samizdat of liberty..)
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To: PatrickHenry

Thanks for this article...I am especially grateful for this article, because in the third paragraph, the 'grange' is mentioned....in my area, the Pacific Northwest, there are two grange halls which are in terrible disrepair...probably because they are no longer being used...however, the one in a small town near here, is going to be restored, or repaired, because there is a new housing development going up just near the old grange, and the old grange looks so tacky...rather than tearing it down, the town has raised the funds to repair and fix up the old grange...which I think is a fine thing...granges may not be used much anymore, depending on where they are built, but they were an important part of the past, and as such, I am glad to see a town recognize its historic past, and willing to raise the money to restore the building...

There is another grange hall closer to me, which is currently in absolute disrepair...and I am hoping to find out via snail mail and emailings, if anything can be done to save this building...

In any case, my ramblings here, probably have nothing to do with the general subject matter of the thread, except that grange halls, did exist for many years, as a help to the farmers...farmers cooperating with one another for promoting common interests...

Anyway, thanks...its not too often that I see granges mentioned anywhere...


16 posted on 06/29/2006 5:08:11 PM PDT by andysandmikesmom
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To: andysandmikesmom
its not too often that I see granges mentioned anywhere...

I vaguely recall a mention of that movement in some long ago American history course, but I guess it's not much of an issue now.

17 posted on 06/29/2006 5:13:00 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: PatrickHenry

Is collaboration the same as cooperation? Why is self interest defined as cheating? This is nonsense.


18 posted on 06/29/2006 5:14:12 PM PDT by outofsalt ("If History teaches us anything it's that history rarely teaches us anything")
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To: PatrickHenry

I think with the loss of the small family farms, and other factors, granges no longer hold the importance that they once did....most of grange bldgs are no longer used, they just sit and decompose...

Tho I do recall a grange hall about halfway between where I live in Olympia, and on the way to Mt. Rainier, that seems to in fine shape, and actually does seem to be functioning in the small community where it is...tho I think it may be used kind of like a lodge hall, or wedding reception hall...
Still, I am glad to see the old bldg., getting some use...


19 posted on 06/29/2006 5:18:02 PM PDT by andysandmikesmom
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To: PatrickHenry

Isn't there a game theory example that is basically a variation of the game these guys used to demonstrate their theory. I'm thinking of the game where you have 2 players who can do 1 of 3 things when it is their turn. They can either hurt the other guy, or do nothing to the other guy, or help the other guy. Game theory says that to get the other guy to help you, you should mimic what he does. So if he hurts you, during your next turn you hurt him. Then if he does nothing, you do nothing. Eventually, if the other guy is rational, he will figure out that if he helps you everytime, you will help him everytime in return.


20 posted on 06/29/2006 5:19:17 PM PDT by vbmoneyspender
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To: vbmoneyspender
There's a lot of literature on game theory. What you describe is probably one scenario. The study in the lead article obviously uses game theory. I'm not up on it at all. A Google search leads to downloadable software.
21 posted on 06/29/2006 5:25:22 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: PatrickHenry

Yup! I would have made it too, had I not skimmed the article first.


22 posted on 06/29/2006 6:11:11 PM PDT by RadioAstronomer (Senior member of Darwin Central)
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To: PatrickHenry

In Before Toilet Paper? Right stuff for this stuff.


23 posted on 06/29/2006 6:17:20 PM PDT by furball4paws (Awful Offal)
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To: andysandmikesmom
Pardon a question from an unsophisticated Canuck.

What the heck is a grange?
24 posted on 06/29/2006 6:23:37 PM PDT by b_sharp (There is always one more mess to clean up.)
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To: b_sharp

Here is one little article...

http://www.grange.org/history.htm


25 posted on 06/29/2006 6:32:17 PM PDT by andysandmikesmom
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To: b_sharp

And one more article...

http://www.wa-grange.org/grange_different_fraternity.htm


26 posted on 06/29/2006 6:37:46 PM PDT by andysandmikesmom
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To: andysandmikesmom
How about this memory?


27 posted on 06/29/2006 6:54:54 PM PDT by furball4paws (Awful Offal)
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To: furball4paws

Nice...I had not seen that before...


28 posted on 06/29/2006 6:57:29 PM PDT by andysandmikesmom
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To: PatrickHenry

This model might have some bearing on reality if "altruism" ("cooperation") were a heritable trait. Alternatively, if there were some other mechanism that assured a high probablity of offspring of "cooperators" also being "cooperators" themselves, this might just make sense.


29 posted on 06/29/2006 7:06:52 PM PDT by longshadow (FReeper #405, entering his ninth year of ignoring nitwits, nutcases, and recycled newbies)
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To: longshadow
This model might have some bearing on reality if "altruism" ("cooperation") were a heritable trait. Alternatively, if there were some other mechanism that assured a high probability of offspring of "cooperators" also being "cooperators" themselves, this might just make sense.

I don't know what kind of traits might be involved, so I'll speculate. One, a greater tendency for group bonding, and two, a lowered tendency for hair-trigger aggression. That might do it. But I'm just guessing.

30 posted on 06/29/2006 7:13:02 PM PDT by PatrickHenry (Unresponsive to trolls, lunatics, fanatics, retards, scolds, & incurable ignoramuses.)
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To: King Moonracer

What is this Freakonomics? First I see the reference to it on a baby name thread, now this¿


31 posted on 06/29/2006 8:27:29 PM PDT by stands2reason (ANAGRAM for the day: Socialist twaddle == Tact is disallowed)
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To: SauronOfMordor

I'm sure if that factor was thrown in it would shift even more toward the cooperators.

But it's neat to see these results showing with the fewer criteria used.


32 posted on 06/29/2006 8:31:17 PM PDT by stands2reason (ANAGRAM for the day: Socialist twaddle == Tact is disallowed)
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To: All

bump


33 posted on 06/29/2006 9:57:44 PM PDT by longtermmemmory (VOTE! http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov)
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To: PatrickHenry

Thanks for the ping!


34 posted on 06/29/2006 10:31:32 PM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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To: stands2reason

Its a book, written by an economist on some oddball kind of studies. One study said that people who cheat get ahead at work.

Another one claimed that abortion for the last 30 years lead to the drop in crime, for which Bill Bennett was attacked when he repeated it on his radio show.


35 posted on 06/30/2006 2:11:18 AM PDT by King Moonracer
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To: b_sharp
What the heck is a grange?

It's a microwave-type oven using gamma rays to heat food. Originally, it was pronounced "G-range," but over the years it was simply shortened to "grange." Because of the inherent dangers, such devices were kept in separate buildings, or "grange halls."

</asshole dad mode>

36 posted on 06/30/2006 3:06:53 AM PDT by Junior (Identical fecal matter, alternate diurnal period)
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To: Junior
</asshole dad mode>

A little clarification is in order. My father used to come up with stories like this to mess with his kids' heads. For instance, he had me believing The Wizard of Oz went from black and white to color after the first 16 minutes because the crew ran out of black and white film.

I basically do the same thing to my kids nowadays (the infamous "beach leach" comes to mind).

37 posted on 06/30/2006 8:01:37 AM PDT by Junior (Identical fecal matter, alternate diurnal period)
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To: TASMANIANRED

"They have no intellect."

Oh crap, let's hope that isn't a key evolutionary factor for the survival of the Democrat.


38 posted on 06/30/2006 9:09:56 AM PDT by SaveUS
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To: vbmoneyspender

I am confused. Is the United Nations an example of people working cooperatively together for the common good or of a bunch of a parasites whose sole goal in life (other than picking up a taxpayer funded paycheck) is to prevent the fruits of liberty and capitalism from being spread throughout the world.

Below is a common model of cooperation brought into question its ends and means.

Proclaiming to save persons and society from running headlong to destruction politicians and bureaucrats create about 3,000 new laws and regulations each year. State government create their own barrage of laws and regs each year.

Yet, how is it that for more than a hundred years, without the "benefit" of the next year's new laws and the laws in subsequent years that persons and society increasingly prospered? How do we increasingly prosper to day with out the "benefit" of new laws and regulations yet to come next year, five years and fifteen years from now?

Also, with the increasing mountain of laws virtually every person breaks the law several times a year. How is it that with all that lawlessness that persons and society have not run headlong over the cliff-edge to destruction? Not to mention that if it were physically possible to apprehend every lawbreaker -- including judges, lawyers, police, prosecutors, bus drivers, grocery clerks etc. -- next week, society would come to a screeching halt -- driving it over the cliff-edge.

Capitalism and the workers that fuel it are the host. Politicians and bureaucrats are parasites living off the host. They leech just enough to gain unearned paychecks, prestige and power. Sure to not so encumber/drain the host where it reduces its production of goods and services beyond that which would leave the parasites to perish. For the parasitical elites cannot produce much needed, life sustaining necessities.

Politics is not the solution. Politics is the problem.

Calling it bizarre would be an understatement. It's lethal. It's the anti-civilization.

Rational and honest principle is strength -- an asset. Irrational and dishonest principle is weakness - a liability. 

39 posted on 06/30/2006 9:24:28 AM PDT by Zon (Honesty outlives the lie, spin and deception -- It always has -- It always will.)
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To: PatrickHenry

[“In our model, you can get groups of different sizes – and cooperators seem to flourish in smaller groups,” Flatt said]



If their claim is true that this property is applicable to human sociology, then this might explain why a communal or "communist" philosophy works fine when it's limited to a handful of people (like family groups) but fails when the numbers increase to more than a few dozen.


40 posted on 06/30/2006 10:15:48 AM PDT by spinestein (Follow "The Bronze Rule")
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