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18064Evolution Punishes Selfishness

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    Aug 2 12:21 PM
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      By Layne Cameron
      August 2, 2013



      Biologists say they have new evidence that evolution tends to favor
      cooperation, not selfishness.

      The findings refute a theory popularized in 2012 that suggests meanies
      have the evolutionary upper hand.

      “We found evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean,” says
      lead author Christoph Adami, Michigan State University 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 appears in the current issue of Nature Communications and
      focuses on game theory, which 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.

      In 2012, a scientific paper unveiled a newly discovered strategy—called
      zero-determinant—that gave selfish players a guaranteed way to beat
      cooperative players.

      “The paper caused quite a stir,” says Adami, who co-authored the paper
      with Arend Hintze, molecular and microbiology research associate. “The
      main result appeared to be completely new, despite 30 years of intense
      research in this area.”

      Adami and Hintze had their doubts about whether following a zero
      determinant strategy (ZD) would essentially eliminate cooperation and
      create a world full of selfish beings.

      They used high-powered computing to run hundreds of thousands of games
      and found ZD strategies can never be the product of evolution. While ZD
      strategies offer advantages when they’re used against non-ZD opponents,
      they don’t work well against other ZD opponents.

      “In an evolutionary setting, with populations of strategies, you need
      extra information to distinguish each other,” Adami says.

      So ZD strategies only worked if players knew their opponents and adapted
      their strategies accordingly. A ZD player would play one way against
      another ZD player and a different way against a cooperative player.

      “The only way ZD strategists could survive would be if they could
      recognize their opponents,” Hintze says. “And even if ZD strategists
      kept winning so that only ZD strategists were left, in the long run they
      would have to evolve away from being ZD and become more cooperative. So
      they wouldn’t be ZD strategists anymore.”

      The National Science Foundation and Michigan State University supported
      the study.


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