The evolution of cooperation by negotiation in a noisy world

Kazuyuki Ito*, J. M. Mcnamara, A. Yamauchi, Andrew D Higginson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Cooperative interactions among individuals are ubiquitous despite the possibility of exploitation by selfish free riders. One mechanism that may promote cooperation is 'negotiation': individuals altering their behaviour in response to the behaviour of others. Negotiating individuals decide their actions through a recursive process of reciprocal observation, thereby reducing the possibility of free riding. Evolutionary games with response rules have shown that infinitely many forms of the rule can be evolutionarily stable simultaneously, unless there is variation in individual quality. This potentially restricts the conditions under which negotiation could maintain cooperation. Organisms interact with one another in a noisy world in which cooperative effort and the assessment of effort may be subject to error. Here, we show that such noise can make the number of evolutionarily stable rules finite, even without quality variation, and so noise could help maintain cooperative behaviour. We show that the curvature of the benefit function is the key factor determining whether individuals invest more or less as their partner's investment increases, investing less when the benefit to investment has diminishing returns. If the benefits of low investment are very small then behavioural flexibility tends to promote cooperation, because negotiation enables cooperators to reach large benefits. Under some conditions, this leads to a repeating cycle in which cooperative behaviour rises and falls over time, which may explain between-population differences in cooperative behaviour. In other conditions, negotiation leads to extremely high levels of cooperative behaviour, suggesting that behavioural flexibility could facilitate the evolution of eusociality in the absence of high relatedness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-615
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number3
Early online date16 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Affiliation
  • Eusociality
  • Evolutionary branching
  • Exploitation
  • Mutualism
  • Negotiation
  • Plasticity
  • Response rules
  • Snowdrift game
  • Social behaviour


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