Variation and the response to variation as a basis for successful cooperation

John M. McNamara*, Olof Leimar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

70 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

In applying game theory to problems in biology, differences between individuals are often ignored. In particular, when analysing the evolution of cooperation it is often implicitly assumed that ignoring variation will produce predictions that approximate the solution when differences are included. This need not be true. As we demonstrate, differences are not innocuous noise, but can fundamentally change the nature of a game. Even small amounts of variability can stabilize cooperation by, for example, maintaining the need to deal with cheaters. Differences promote the need to learn about others in an interaction, leading to contingent behaviour that can reduce conflict, and to negotiated outcomes that may or may not be more cooperative than unconditional actions. Once there are mechanisms such as mutation and environmental influences that maintain variation within populations, whether cooperation evolves may depend on the variation in the cooperativeness trait. Variation means that it may be worth taking a chance that a partner is cooperative by being cooperative. When there are markets, so that individuals can break off interactions to seek a better partner, variation promotes choosiness and hence penalizes those uncooperative individuals, who are rejected. Variation promotes the need to monitor the previous behaviour of others, and once this social sensitivity exists, the need to maintain a good reputation can promote cooperation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2627-2633
Number of pages7
JournalPhilosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences
Volume365
Issue number1553
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2010

Keywords

  • RECIPROCAL ALTRUISM
  • PRISONERS-DILEMMA GAME
  • EVOLUTIONARY STABILITY
  • CLEANER FISH
  • REEF FISH
  • TIT-FOR-TAT
  • PREDATOR INSPECTION
  • BIOLOGICAL MARKETS
  • FIGHTING BEHAVIOR
  • reputation
  • PARTNER QUALITY
  • negotiation
  • social sensitivity
  • assessment

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