It does pay to be nice if you repeatedly deal with the same person. Martin Nowak explains why cooperation also wins in matters of reputation, neighbourliness and family. But can evolutionary game theory save the world?
Does it pay to be nice? Yes, it does. And we're not just talking about that warm fuzzy feeling inside, it pays in evolutionary terms of genetic success too. We talk to Martin Nowak about how the mathematics of evolution prove that being nice is unavoidable.
One of the most puzzling aspects of human behaviour is cooperation, in situations where backstabbing and selfishness would seem to be more rewarding. From the point of view of evolutionary theory, the very existence of altruism and cooperation appear mysterious.
Would you stake your fortune on a 100 to 1 outsider? Probably not. But what if, somewhere in a parallel universe, the straggling nag does come in first? Would the pleasure you feel in that universe outweigh the pain you feel in the one in which you've lost? Questions not dissimilar to this one occupy physicists and for entirely respectable reasons.
Guilt, so some people have suggested, is what makes us nice. When we do someone a favour or choose not to exploit someone vulnerable, we do it because we fear the guilt we'd feel otherwise. A team of neuroscientists, psychologists and economists have this month produced some new results in this area, using a model from psychological game theory.