Are Selfish Traits Favored by Evolution?

A recently published paper in Nature argues that it doesn’t pay to be selfish, in terms of maintaining or gaining evolutionary advantage. From the abstract, they used the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma to come to their conclusion:

Zero-determinant strategies are a new class of probabilistic and conditional strategies that are able to unilaterally set the expected payoff of an opponent in iterated plays of the Prisoner’s Dilemma irrespective of the opponent’s strategy (coercive strategies), or else to set the ratio between the player’s and their opponent’s expected payoff (extortionate strategies). Here we show that zero-determinant strategies are at most weakly dominant, are not evolutionarily stable, and will instead evolve into less coercive strategies. We show that zero-determinant strategies with an informational advantage over other players that allows them to recognize each other can be evolutionarily stable (and able to exploit other players). However, such an advantage is bound to be short-lived as opposing strategies evolve to counteract the recognition.

More interestingly, this latest finding is in direct contradiction the findings in a paper published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, which posited that selfish people could get ahead of more co-operative partners…

The reason that being selfish wouldn’t work in an evolutionary environment is that knowing your opponent’s decision would not be advantageous for long because your opponent would evolve the same recognition mechanism known to you.

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(via BBC News)

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