Indirect reciprocity provides a narrow margin of efficiency for costly punishment

Department of Value and Decision Science, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tokyo 152-8552, Japan.
Nature (Impact Factor: 41.46). 02/2009; 457(7225):79-82. DOI: 10.1038/nature07601
Source: PubMed


Indirect reciprocity is a key mechanism for the evolution of human cooperation. Our behaviour towards other people depends not only on what they have done to us but also on what they have done to others. Indirect reciprocity works through reputation. The standard model of indirect reciprocity offers a binary choice: people can either cooperate or defect. Cooperation implies a cost for the donor and a benefit for the recipient. Defection has no cost and yields no benefit. Currently there is considerable interest in studying the effect of costly (or altruistic) punishment on human behaviour. Punishment implies a cost for the punished person. Costly punishment means that the punisher also pays a cost. It has been suggested that costly punishment between individuals can promote cooperation. Here we study the role of costly punishment in an explicit model of indirect reciprocity. We analyse all social norms, which depend on the action of the donor and the reputation of the recipient. We allow errors in assigning reputation and study gossip as a mechanism for establishing coherence. We characterize all strategies that allow the evolutionary stability of cooperation. Some of those strategies use costly punishment; others do not. We find that punishment strategies typically reduce the average payoff of the population. Consequently, there is only a small parameter region where costly punishment leads to an efficient equilibrium. In most cases the population does better by not using costly punishment. The efficient strategy for indirect reciprocity is to withhold help for defectors rather than punishing them.

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    • "In the studies of evolutionary game theory, five specific mechanisms, namely, kin selection [7] [8], direct reciprocity [9] [10], indirect reciprocity [11] [12], group selection [13] [14] [15] and spatial reciprocity [16] [17], have been proposed to promote cooperative behavior in many different contexts. Within or intercorrelated with these mechanisms, some key factors have been discovered, which can promote cooperative behavior, including reputation [18] [19], punishment [20] [21], migration [22] [23] [24] [25] [26], memory effect [27] [28] and social diversity [29] [30] [31], to name but a few (see [32–42, 43]). Recently, the social dilemma on interdependent networks [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49] [50] [51] [52] has attracted extensive investigation. "

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    • "Punishment, an external incentive discussed by Brandt et al. [9], is a powerful resolution for social dilemmas. Although some studies [10] [11] [12] [13] have shown that a costly punishment can effectively guarantee cooperation, others [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] have shown just the opposite. Boyd et al. [19] also pointed out that the average payoff of a group significantly decreases * Corresponding author at: 3-2-16, Osaki, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo, 141-8602, Japan. "
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    ABSTRACT: Although there is much support for the punishment system as a sophisticated approach to resolving social dilemmas, more than a few researchers have also pointed out the limitations of such an approach. Second-order free riding is a serious issue facing the punishment system. Various pioneering works have suggested that an anti-social behavior or noise stemming from a mutation may, surprisingly, be helpful for avoiding second-order freeloaders. In this work, we show through mathematical analysis and an agent-based simulation of a model extending the meta-norms game that the coercive introduction of a small number of non-cooperators can maintain a cooperative regime robustly. This paradoxical idea was inspired by the effect of a vaccine, which is a weakened pathogen injected into a human body to create antibodies and ward off infection by that pathogen. Our expectation is that the coercive introduction of a few defectors, i.e., a social vaccine, will help maintain a highly cooperative regime because it will ensure that the punishment system works.
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    • "Moreover, since teaching increases the dependence on social learning, it may strengthen social ties between individuals, which would lead to closer cooperation within a group. Indirect reciprocity is one of the most important mechanisms for the evolution of human cooperation, and is possibly supported by information on the reputation of others (Nowak and Sigmund 1998; Ohtsuki et al. 2009). The existence of teaching may be important for the spread of information on reputation. "
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