Five rules for the evolution of cooperation

Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Department of Mathematics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
Science (Impact Factor: 31.48). 01/2007; 314(5805):1560-3. DOI: 10.1126/science.1133755
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Cooperation is needed for evolution to construct new levels of organization. Genomes, cells, multicellular organisms, social insects, and human society are all based on cooperation. Cooperation means that selfish replicators forgo some of their reproductive potential to help one another. But natural selection implies competition and therefore opposes cooperation unless a specific mechanism is at work. Here I discuss five mechanisms for the evolution of cooperation: kin selection, direct reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, network reciprocity, and group selection. For each mechanism, a simple rule is derived that specifies whether natural selection can lead to cooperation.

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    ABSTRACT: In a world in which many pressing global issues require large scale cooperation, understanding the group size effect on cooperative behavior is a topic of central importance. Yet, the nature of this effect remains largely unknown, with lab experiments insisting that it is either positive or negative or null, and field experiments suggesting that it is instead curvilinear. Here we shed light on this apparent contradiction by showing that one can recreate all these effects in the lab by varying a single parameter. Specifically, if the benefit for full cooperation remains constant as a function of the group size, then larger groups are less cooperative; if it increases linearly with the size of the group, then larger groups are more cooperative; however, in the more realistic scenario in which the natural output limits of the public good imply that the benefit of cooperation increases fast for early contributions and then decelerates, one may get a curvilinear effect according to which intermediate-size groups cooperate more than smaller groups and more than larger groups. Our findings help fill the gap between lab experiments and field experiments and suggest concrete ways to promote large scale cooperation among people.

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