Monday, May 12, 2008

Support for cooperation over competition

Here's an article about a recent study that shows individuals prefer cooperation over competition.

The scenario is that players are grouped into 2 teams, and then each player has 2 options:
  1. Produce 1 point for each ally and remove a point from the other team.
  2. Produce 1 point for each ally without affecting the other team.

The study concludes that people seem to prefer intra-group cooperation over inter-group competition. (Players tended to use option #2 instead of hurting the other team.)

I recently updated my program "The Rise of Cooperation" which you can download here (or from the bar on the right-side of your screen.) It tries to look at a similar theme - whether we can say which of cooperation or competition is a dominant strategy.

If cooperation tends to be a better strategy than competition, then it makes sense that natural selection would have shaped us into beings that prefer cooperation as the study above suggests. If we had an innate preference for an inferior strategy, then natural selection would likely have phased our species out long before certain unnamed hacks could blog about it on the web...


EasyRider said...

While unanimous cooperation would be ideal for all, cooperation is vulnerable to competitive behaviour to the point where the competitor (or defector) would stand to gain more from competing that they would from cooperating, increasing the temptation to compete.

More in-depth study would likely show some sort of magical ratio that would demonstrate a maximum percentage of competitively behaving people within a greater group of cooperators.

I believe that a study that would be truer-to-life would involve perhaps a comparison between giving one MU to yourself and another, or taking increasingly more for yourself and none for the other (1.25 you, none for the other; 1.5 you, none for the other, and so on to see where people's limits are).

Additionally, a comparison has to be made between a single-instance situation, and a repetitive situation. In a one-off situation, people are more likely to compete a) because they're not sure if they can trust the other person to cooperate, and b) because there is relatively little social consequence when you don't expect to see the other person again, compared to continued interaction.

Not only does a generally cooperative society allow for success for competitiveness as a general default strategy, but it also allows for a given individual to vary their strategies, to be be cooperative at most times, but every once in a while, when the pay off may be greater, being competitive.

Johnny GoTime said...

Hey easy, great points.

In the computer model I referenced in the blog, I've noticed that as the number of cooperative players increases, so does their performance. I think there's a tipping point after which regardless of how many aggressive players there are, they get left in the dust.
(I'm not saying my model is any kind of real indicator of performance, I just thought it was interesting :)

You're right on the money with the importance of repeated scenarios - have you heard of the the iterated prisoner's dilemma?

Re: people more likely to compete in a one-off situation:
This post links to a study which looked at how this is very much a cultural thing. People from democratic societies are much more likely to cooperate, while people from undemocratic or weakly-governed states tend to compete first.

EasyRider said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
EasyRider said...

I can imagine how someone who was was a repeated competitor (single strategy) would lose, but as an occasional strategy it would do well enough to not get selected against. In the iterated prisoner's dilemma (of which I am familiar), you'll notice that the ideal strategy is the 'Two Tits for a Tat', which not only treats like with like, but also allows for forgiveness the first time (allowing co-'Tit for Tat'-ers to not get stuck in a mutual defection situation). If most people adopted the 'Two Tits for a Tat' strategy in real life, then an occasional defection would still be allowed among a minority, especially if the reward for a defection is higher than it is for cooperation.

Further studies have increased the realism of these situations by adding a punishment option, even to the point where it would come at a cost to the punisher (called 'altruistic punishment'). Results varied by situation.

Also, before we start heralding humanity's sense of justice, there is a study showing some not-quite-so-prosocial behaviour, where we are willing to burn up to 25% of their own money to punish people who are better off than they are.

How's that for envy?

Anyway, this obviously getting away from the gist of the original post, but an interesting discussion nonetheless...