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Evolution Favors Generosity Over Selfishness

September 7, 2013, 11:11 AM

What's the Latest Development?

Cooperation and generosity are better modes of behavior than obstinance and self-interest when it comes to thriving within a society, according to a study newly published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study shines new light on a classic question concerning human behavior known as the Prisoner's Dilemma: Is it better to gain a lot at the expense of another person, or to gain slightly less while simultaneously promoting the other's wellbeing? "To test the effectiveness of different strategies, the researchers imagined an evolving population of players, a situation that represents what happens in nature more than repeated head-to-head competition."

What's the Big Idea?

While an isolated instance of the Prisoner's Dilemma seems to suggest that acting selfishly at the expense of another person results in the largest gain, such experimental settings lack context. In social groupings—the kind that all humans naturally form a part of—selfish strategies do not work as well as more generous behavior. In the experiment, "players who defected instead of cooperating suffered more over time than players who recognized the value of cooperation—though extortion might provide an advantage in a single head-to-head matchup, in the context of a whole population, over time, it pays to be generous."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at the Atlantic


Evolution Favors Generosity...

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