How Cooperation Works

In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies,” by Joseph Henrich, Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles, Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis, and Richard McElreath, American Economic Review, Vol. 91, No. 2, ,May 2001, pp. 73-78,

‘Machiavellian’ Intelligence as a Basis for the Evolution of Cooperative Dispositions,” by John Orbell, Tomonori Morikawa, Jason Hartwig, James Hanley, Nichlar Allen, American Political Science Review, Vol. 98 No. 1, February 2004,

Machiavellian Intelligence and the Evolution of Cooperation,” by John Orbell, Tomonori Morikawa, Jason Hartwig, James Hanley, Nichlar Allen,

Empathetic Neural Responses are Modulated by the Perceived Fairness of Others,” by Tania Singer, Ben Seymour, John O’Doherty, Klaas Stephan, Raymond Dolan, and Chris Frith, Nature, Vol. 439 No. 26, January 2006,

Three journal articles today, all focusing on cooperation. The most interesting is Orbell et al’s, where they ran a computer simulation with attributes of mind-reading and deceitfulness. They found a sudden increase in social cooperation as a result of a small increase in mind-reading ability: talk about a group-selection rule-set reset!

The Sudden Evolution of Cooperation

Further down, Singer et al demonstrates a mechanism to force honesty: empathy. The flip-side of everyday honest if justice, of course, and Singer finds that men enjoy justice more than women. In other words, men are competitive-cooperative. Last, Henrich et al attack the idea of profit-maximizing Economic Man and show that homo sapiens rationally relies on analogies, instead. The authors also have an interesting discussion of gift societies.

The notes themselves are below the fold.

“The incentives they confront must, somehow, be changed so that cooperation rater than defection offers the greater return. We now understand that this does not necessarily imply a centralized Hobbesian Leviathan, and decentralized mechanisms might be sufficient — for example, by the existence of “altruistic punishment (Boyd et al. 2003).” (Orbell et al 1)

“Although still hotly disputed (Reeve 2000), group selection’s capacity to promote cooperative dispositions requires that a group’s survival prospects be increased by members’ cooperative choices, with the cooperator’s fitness gains from the group’s success being greater than the fitness cost that individuals incur as a result fo their cooperative choices.” (Orbell et al 2)

“Our particular interest is in the cognitive mechanisms fundamental to the “Machiavellian intelligence” (Byrne and Whiten 1988; Whiten and Byrne 1997) hypothesis. In its broadest terms, this proposes that group living selects strongly for whatever cognitive capacities facilitate an individual’s successful negotiation of the competitive and highly complex social environment of the group.” (Orbell et al 2)

“Employing the terms introduced by Dawkins and Krebs (1978), the two fundamental “Machiavellian” capacities are (1) Sender’s capacity to persuade another group member to accept as true what it is Sender’s interest to have it believe is true — viz, manipulation — and (2) Receiver’s capacity to penetrate o the truth underlying messages from potentially manipulative others — viz, misreading.” (Orbell et al 3)

“Quite possibly, no two individuals will ever reach enough PC [Probability of Cooperating] to be seen as attractive partners to each other. In fact, as we have pointed out, transitions failed in nine of the 90 simulation runs we conducted.” (Orbell et al 11)

“This analysis suggests: Natural selection will “discover” levels of cooperative dispositions that are simultaneously high enough to ensure that prospective partners assess the expected value of entering PD [prisoner's dilemma] games as greater than ALT [non-PD courses of action], but low enough to maximize the possibility of exploiting partners should a PD game be joined.” (Orbell et al 11)

“Rationality in action [means] individuals choose so as to maximize their private welfare — under a variety of constraints, most importantly, on information.” (Orbell et al 14)

“Rationality in Design [means] the adaptive fit between some designed apparatus and the environmental problems that apparatus is intended to solve — an idea usefully captured within an evolutionary context by Tooby and Cosmides’ (1992) metaphor of an appropriately designed key being one that opens a particular lock.” (Orbell et al 14)

“Nevertheless, our model does provide a basis for hypothesizing that sociality itself — a willingness to enter PD-type games coupled with a strong disposition to play such games in a cooperative manner — evolved to its highest levels when there were only marginal gains to be had from jointly cooperative actions in comparison with ‘going it alone.” (Orbell et al 14-15)

Another article was recently described by a grad student blogger, meaning I have competition in the world of bringing evolutionary psychology online…

“The perception-action model of empathy states that the observation or imagination of another person in a particular emotional state automatically activates a representation of that state in the observer.” (Singer et al 466).

“This analysis revealed that less empathic activity was elicited by the knowledge that an unfair player was in pain. However, there was also a marked difference between the sexes. In women, this reduction in activity was very small, whereas in men the knowledge that an unfair player was in receipt of pain elicited no increase in empathic activity in FI. And indeed, formal analysis revealed no significant difference for women when comparing painful trials for fair versus unfair players in empathy-related pain regions. However, men showed significantly enhanced activation in bilateral FI when observing fair compared with unfair players in pain (Supplementary tables 8 and 11)” (Singer et al 467)

“Figure 3c shows that men expressed a stronger desire for revenge than women (t(30) = 2.40, P < 0.05; Supplementary Fig. 3). As illustrated in Fig. 3d, regression analysis confirmed that men, but not women, who expressed a stronger desire for revenge showed a greater activation in nucleus accumbens when they perceived an unfair player receiving painful stimuli than when they perceived a fair player in pain (Supplementary Fig. 4).” (Singer et al 467)

“Our results suggest a neural foundation for theories of social preferences. These theories suggest athat people value the gains of others positively if they are perceived to behave fairly, but value others’ gains negatively if they behave unfairly.” (Singer et al 468)

The last article mirrors a recent report in The Economist

“In experiments with university subjects, offers are generally consistent with income-maximization, given the distribution of rejections. In our sample, however, in the majority of groups the modal behavior of the proposers is not consistent with the expected income-maximization.” (Henrich et al 75)

“The large variations across the different cultural groups suggest that preferences of expectations are affected by group-specific conditions, such as social institutions or cultural-fairness norms.” (Henrich et al 75)

“A plausible interpretation of our subjects’ behaviors is that, when faced with a novel situation (the experiment), they looked for analogues in their daily experience, asking ‘What familiar situation is this game like?’ and then acted in a way appropriate for the analogous situation.” (Henrich et al 75)

“We suspect that a proximate reason for these behaviors is that situations cue emotional responses which induce the behaviors we have measured. For example, many ultimatum-game responders from advanced societies, when facing a low offer, experience an emotional impulse to hurt the proposer for being unfair, just as the subject might in a real-life bargaining situation. Similarly, the New Guinea responders who rejected hyper-fair offers in the UG may have experienced the same anxiety that emerges when somebody gives them an unsolicited gift in everyday life.” (Henrich et al 77)

2 thoughts on “How Cooperation Works”

  1. Hahaha!

    I just posted notes — the authors (as well as the professors in class) deserve the credit. (As well as blog readers and commentators, of course :-) )

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