Sustained Cooperation by Running Away from Bad Behavior
30 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 29, 2015
For cooperation to evolve, some mechanism must limit the rate at which cooperators are exposed to defectors. Only then can the advantages of mutual cooperation outweigh the costs of being exploited. Although researchers widely agree on this, they disagree intensely about which evolutionary mechanisms can explain the extraordinary cooperation exhibited by humans. Much of the controversy follows from disagreements about the informational regularity that allows cooperators to avoid defectors. Reliable information can allow cooperative individuals to avoid exploitation, but which mechanisms can sustain such a situation is a matter of considerable dispute. We conducted a behavioral experiment to see if cooperators could avoid defectors when provided with limited amounts of explicit information. We gave each participant the simple option to move away from her current neighborhood at any time. Participants were not identifiable as individuals, and they could not track each other’s tendency to behave more or less cooperatively. More broadly, a participant had no information about the behavior she was likely to encounter if she moved, and so information about the risk of exploitation was extremely limited. Nonetheless, our results show that simply providing the option to move allowed cooperation to persist for a long period of time. Our results further show that movement, even though it involved considerable uncertainty, allowed would-be cooperators to assort positively and eliminate on average any individual payoff disadvantage associated with cooperation. This suggests that choosing to move, even under limited information, can completely reorganize the mix of selective forces relevant for the evolution of cooperation.
Keywords: evolution of cooperation, positive assortment, migration, behavioral experiment
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