Collapse of cooperation in evolving games


Game theory provides a quantitative framework for analyzing the behavior of rational agents. The Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma in particular has become a standard model for studying cooperation and cheating, with cooperation often emerging as a robust outcome in evolving populations. Here we extend evolutionary game theory by allowing players’ payoffs as well as their strategies to evolve in response to selection on heritable mutations. In nature, many organisms engage in mutually beneficial interactions and individuals may seek to change the ratio of risk to reward for cooperation by altering the resources they commit to cooperative interactions. To study this, we construct a general framework for the coevolution of strategies and payoffs in arbitrary iterated games. We show that, when there is a tradeoff between the benefits and costs of cooperation, coevolution often leads to a dramatic loss of cooperation in the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. The collapse of cooperation is so extreme that the average payoff in a population can decline even as the potential reward for mutual cooperation increases. Depending upon the form of tradeoffs, evolution may even move away from the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma game altogether. Our work offers a new perspective on the Prisoner’s Dilemma and its predictions for cooperation in natural populations; and it provides a general framework to understand the coevolution of strategies and payoffs in iterated interactions

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This paper was published in UCL Discovery.

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