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Tag: evolution of cooperation

Tit-for-tat no more: new insights into the origin and evolution of cooperation

The Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD) is the paradigmatic scientific model to understand human cooperation. You would think that after several decennia of analyzing this deceivingly simple game, nothing new can be learned. Not quite. This new paper discovers a whole new class of strategies that provide a unilateral advantage to the players using them in playing the repeated version of the game. In effect, using these strategies one can force the opponent to any score one desires. The familiar tit-for-tat strategy, which so far had been assumed to be the optimal way of playing the repeated game, appears to be just the tip of an iceberg of ‘zero determinant’ strategies which ‘enforce a linear relationship between the two players’ scores’. This is huge and people have already started to discuss the implications. But what puzzles me is the following: The search for an optimal way to play the repeated PD has been going on at least since the 1980s. The best strategies have been sought analytically, and through simulation (see Robert Axelrod’s iterated PD tournaments). And yet nobody discovered or stumbled upon ‘zero determinant’ strategies for more than 30 years of dedicated research. So can we expect a rational but not omnipotent actor to use these strategies? I think the formal answer needs to be ‘yes’ – a rational actor plays the game in the most advantageous way for his/her interests and if zero determinant strategies provide en edge, then he/she needs to (and is expected and predicted to) play these. The alternative would be to impose some limitations to the…