How to create less selfish societies?

Feb 06, 2009

(GPEARI, Portugal) -- Cooperation, despite being now considered the third force of evolution, just behind mutation and natural selection, is difficult to explain in the context of an evolutionary process based on competition between individuals and selfish behaviour. But this puzzle, that has haunted scientists for decades, is now a little closer to be solved by research about to be published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The work, by scientists in Portugal and Belgium, reveals that an increasing range of behaviours among the individuals of a population leads to cooperation, supporting the idea that democracy - where individuals are free to act as they wish - is in fact the path for better societies. Jorge Pacheco one of the authors of the study says: "The results support the idea that behavioral differences, on a grand scale, are instrumental in shaping us as the most sophisticated cooperating machines on this planet what is particularly interesting as it contradicts some social and political dogmas - such as Maoism and Stalinism - which, sometimes with rather unfortunate outcomes, have tried to enforce reduced behavioral diversity, supposedly with an aim to improve society."

Richard Dawkins never gets tired of reminding us that evolution is based on the survival of the fittest and on selfishness. Every cell, every living thing is designed to promote its own survival, if necessary at the expense of everything else. Still, cooperation is very much alive, and more, is widespread, being found in a multitude of living beings from the cells of a multicellular organism to insects and of course humans - the “big cooperators”. Some examples are easy to understand, like those among family members, but those are not enough to explain how an apparently disadvantageous behaviour is, nevertheless, so common.

The key, it seems, lies on specific conditions in which cooperators become the individuals with highest fitness, allowing their expansion within the populations. Very few examples have been found so far, however, and the simple observation of biological processes does not seem to be able to provide many more answers. An alternative is to use mathematical models to look for those conditions that allow cooperators to thrive.

With this in mind S. Van Segbroeck, J.M. Pacheco and colleagues from the University of Lisbon, Portugal and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium developed an artificial society in which individuals engage in a mathematical game called the “prisoner’s dilemma” (or PD). In PD individuals interact with the choice of cooperating or defecting (not cooperate) and while cooperators provide a benefit to their partners (and pay a cost for that) defectors, not only have no costs, but also rip the benefits given by the cooperators. In the basic version of PD defectors “win” and cooperators gradually disappear. But recently it has been found that adaptive social networks - like human populations where individuals change behaviour all the time making new acquaintances and breaking others, continuously shaping and reshaping the social network structure - supported cooperation. This led Pacheco and colleagues to ask if specific behavioural diversity within this dynamic world could be linked to cooperators emergence.

To answer that they adapted PD to take into account the adaptive social dynamics of human populations, while also introducing behavioural diversity to test if this last parameter affected the viability (and consequently the emergence) of cooperators. As an example of behaviour variability they analysed partner fidelity. In fact, when a social connection is established, it is rapidly evaluated and, if disadvantageous - like when one of the partners is a defector - it is broken but while some discontented individuals try to break contact (defect) very rapidly, others take much longer and it is this “time taken to defect unwanted links” that Pacheco and colleagues used as an example of behaviour variability to look for cooperation emergence.

The group started by considering a situation where only two break-up velocities existed - fast and slow - with the population, as a result, being constituted by fast and slow defectors - respectively FD and SD - and fast and slow cooperators (FC and SC) all depending how long the individuals took to break unwanted ties (although the time of a connection depends on both partners). In this situation they found that most of the population turns into SD because these would be the ones with higher gains/higher fitness, as their interactions with cooperators would last longer In the same way, most of the few cooperators surviving will be FC since they are the ones, among cooperators, losing less, as they spend less time interacting with defectors. So in this example, again, the model predicts that defectors will be the ones predominant in the population.

Next, the researchers increased the number of possible defecting speeds to an almost continuum of values between fast and slow, and, to their surprise, many Cs are now capable of surviving and even thrive in the population. The reason for that resides in the fact that many more types of defectors, and not only SD, are able to survive, and those faster Ds will provide an escape hatch for cooperators, which, by interacting mostly with cooperators and preferentially with the faster defectors, now manage, not only to survive, but also to dominate in the population. So in this case cooperators thrive and “invade” the population.

Van Segbroeck, Pacheco and colleagues’ model reveals that populations in which individuals exhibit higher diversity when handling their social contacts end up being much more cooperative, than those where no such diversity exists. This is particularly interesting if we consider that individuals always behave according to their own narrow-minded preferences and still, despite of this, cooperation blooms.

There are several interesting aspects to this work, and not the least because it helps to understand better the emergence of cooperation, a crucial force for better human societies. But like Pacheco says: “The results are even more exciting, if we take into account that diversity in individual behavior is on the basis of this result. Hence, we expect that societies in which individuals are free to express their inherent differences will be more cooperative than those in which individuals are constrained to exhibit very similar behavior. Of course, to extrapolate from such a simple model into complex Human Societies is both unreasonable and inescapable. In this respect, we may contrast democracies with dictatorships, religious freedom with religious indoctrination, and so on.”

Another important aspect of the research is the flexibility of the model developed by the team of researchers that can now be used to answer other questions like Pacheco explains: a great example is epidemics. There the dynamical process between individuals is the contagion due to a biological virus, and the model allows now to determine how the evolution of the number of infected individuals in the community affects and is affected by the dynamical network that supports the individuals.

More information: Physical Review Letters, 06 February 2009 online Early Edition, “Reacting differently to adverse ties promotes cooperation in social networks”

Source: GPEARI, Portugal

Explore further: Guidelines for enhancing solar cells using surface plasmon polaritons

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User comments : 17

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earls
2.7 / 5 (10) Feb 06, 2009
SOCIALISM!
Bob_Kob
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 07, 2009
Friends with communism.
Noumenon
2.1 / 5 (9) Feb 07, 2009
I'm guessing you guys didn't read the article, not that i blame you. In anycase 'social engineering' is a frightning thing, and is the key difference between liberals and conservatives; liberals using government to solve social 'problems', while conservatives recognizing those 'problems' as necessary artifacts of a free society,... (Bush tossing those principals due to the 'economic crisis', notwithstanding)
VOR
2.5 / 5 (6) Feb 07, 2009
Conservatives have been shown in studies to be more paranoid. They are also more selfish. They think that we should not collectively provide for the less fortunate's health and education even though many of them are an important part of our future. In America conservatives have made socialism a dirty word. But a few isolated areas of society MUST be socialized to protect humanity from itself in the context of unbridled capitalism, where corporations would rule and put short-term profits (through competitive pressure if not greed) above more important long term issues such as the environment, fair labor practices, education, healthcare...you know all the programs a$$hole conservatives bash all the time. Not to mention invitable corruption/greed/incompetance/unaccountability that come with non-transparency. Another way of looking at it is that conseratives and liberals agree that there must be some rules, regulation, and function-before-profit social programs. They just disagree strongly on what that level is. But ultimately I can find no ethical, functional, or financial(as a whole) justification for any conservative values, as they all seem to spring from a more selfish, anti-community minded, pro rich/corporate mindset. And they fight to keep from letting just a small margin of great wealth being invested in the future. Whats more, ALL THE PROGRESS we have made as a country, from sexual/racial equality, labor practices, and more, have come through liberal action at the resistance of conservatives. Think about and research that for a while. If you consider yourself intelligent and conservative, take the time to see if those to attributes are really compatable.
Noumenon
2.5 / 5 (13) Feb 07, 2009
Your idea of conservatives as "selfish", "anti-community", and "pro-rich",... is a political caricature designed for political argument without a care for real understanding. You're wrong on so many counts. What made the USA a great nation is the constitution and capitalism, ...NOT the government, apart from those elements.

For an example of liberal health care study Canada's system, where folks have to wait 6 months for minor care. America's education system should be #1 in the world, but it is far from that, because again government incompetence, inefficiency, and lack of competition, all inherent in government-> when no one is 'behind the counter' making a profit and worrying about competition, quality will tank every time.

Why did the USA have the recent major housing crisis that tanked the market? Because do-gooder liberal democrats forced lending institutions to lower their loan qualification standards, thus allowing too many who shouldn't have a house, buy a house!

Why can't American auto companies compete with Toyota? Why do those companies need government bailout money now? Because liberals and their Union thugs strong-armed companies to OVERPAY its workers!!!

Conservatives are not evil fat guys with cigars laughing it up over their piles of cash and guns,... they are like your grandfather with a realistic understanding of society,... not like you emotionally driven do-gooder grandmother.

Government dependency is the seed of tyranny, it attracts them with entitlements, weakens its victims, only to restrict their freedom.

If your not a liberal when your young, you have not heart. If your not a conservative when your old, you have no brains.
ryuuguu
4 / 5 (4) Feb 07, 2009
Your right they didn't read the articl, but I do blame them making silly political comments on a subject, based on internal fantasies not related to reality. i.e. they read the title, did not read the article, and instead made up a an article in there own mind and commented on the article they made up. Yes this is norm for 80% of American politcal comentary (including most comments on science by people other than sciencetist working in that field), but that does not make it any better.
docuboy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2009
Democrat Republican the age old dilemma, this split saps the energy of free thought from any conversation of merit. The ability of a people to move forward is though cooperation and diversity. This is why America is at a standstill, the established hierarchy (the man) is facing an uprising of independent thought as the middleclass finds new freedom through (free) markets (ebay, craigslist) and the established sales/consumption models fail. The time for greed and baseless capitalism is over. Business and social bellwether establishments must evolve and cater to a more diverse and savvy clientele, or face extinction. Cooperation is the new economy and those who do not cater to the masses will be ignored and perish. (The reason for that resides in the fact that many more types of defectors, and not only SD, are able to survive, and those faster Ds will provide an escape hatch for cooperators, which, by interacting mostly with cooperators and preferentially with the faster defectors, now manage, not only to survive, but also to dominate in the population. So in this case cooperators thrive and %u201Cinvade%u201D the population.)
superhuman
5 / 5 (1) Feb 09, 2009
Cooperation, despite being now considered the third force of evolution, just behind mutation and natural selection, is difficult to explain in the context of an evolutionary process based on competition between individuals and selfish behaviour

Competition is very easy to explain in terms of evolutionary theory, one only has to realize that it's not a "last man standing" competition, there may be many winners. If working together improves survival of individuals they will work together, it doesn't make them any less selfish.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (4) Feb 09, 2009
Yes, cooperation is simply a means of effecting a competition when individuals lack sufficient resources on their own; the end result is still fundamentally individualistic in attempting advantage (e.g. unions). The core inherent and motive principal is still the ego. Socialists would like to elevate 'cooperation' beyond a utilitarian role as much as they would like to demote the natural force of competition to 'selfishness'. The mechanism responsible for all that is great is that inherent motive force of survival of the fittest, the ego, and its not a negative force, but very much a positive one. Not all men are created equal and each strives to find his place accordingly.

P.s. I hate commies, LoL
KBK
1 / 5 (1) Feb 10, 2009
So far, anyone writing comments here is ignorant of the depth of the issues in social structure and all i see is an individual attempt to logically frame the emotions of the situation for that individual, and all of it so far, based on false interpretation of reality.

The greatest crime a man can commit upon the self is to not understand how emotion runs the creation and formation of thought in the mind and to be fundamentally unaware of this internal bias.
I see a considerable amount of that here.

Not a single cultural anthropologist or historian in the bunch.

Ramble on dudes. Knock yourself out in your ignorance.

Ultimately, I'm most definitely seeing a considerable amount of blusterous 'zero sum' conservatism attempting to blame co-operation for their self created and maintained inability to understand the fundamentals of the flaws in free market systems that run rampant. Ie, don't attempt to take away MY candy - or I'll kill you.

Careful- I see your monkey poking out.

Wrap it up by any internal flag based falsehood you want-but it remains what it is.

I see so much Ayn Rand and Nietzsche bullshit here it's difficult to see anything but such utter crap in any of the responses-- which comes straight out of the mouth of this middle school-boy school yard zero sum bullying conservatism in disguise as some sort of intelligent discourse. Wake up and stop pulling your brains out of your butts and putting them on display for all to see as the fearful ranting that it really is..
Noumenon
1 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2009
Your comment contained the least content of the lot.
theophys
5 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2009
Very interesting bit of research. We're all forced to cooperate based on our survival instincts and our cooperation thrives with large amounts of diversity. It kinda sounds like a combination of John Stewart Mill's libertarian stance on diversity, Rouseau's stance on social contract, and Karl Marx's stance on community cooperation.
lengould100
3 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2009
noumenon -- For an example of liberal health care study Canada's system, where folks have to wait 6 months for minor care. America's education system should be #1 in the world, but it is far from that, because again government incompetence, inefficiency, and lack of competition, all inherent in government


You're so far off the truth in both instances its hard to know where to begin correcting you. Items:

1) I am Canadian, and always use the Canadian healthcare system. It works. VERY well. My daughter (also living in Canada) was just diagnosed this summer with breast cancer. All of us who love her immediately began evaluating what we could do to help improve her odds. We evaluated the options of a) having here treated in the local single-payer healthcare system b) taking her to one of the large US healthcare institutions. Money would be no object, whatever might have been needed would be provided. After significant heavy research, we determined that her odds were just as good in the local system as in any US medical facility except PERHAPS one in Boston. So she was treated here (3 surgeries, 6 months chemo, 60 radiation treatments, complex and costly drug therapies, etc.) Through the entire process, the only thing any of us were able to provide for her was a very expensive (several thousands) custom real-hair wig, which her wealthy boss insisted on donating to her. Total medical bills were $0. She had no side effects from any of the treaments (thankfully) and continued to go about her standard busy daily routine as CFO large engine distributer, mother of two young children, volunteer at her daughter's dance recitals, etc. The only contribution I found to make was to volunteer to have my head shaved as a fund-raising event at the place I work.

From her research, she's concluded that had she been in the US system, she and her husband would be financially ruined by now, even with standard medical coverage. It cost none of us anything, and she's now on a weeks vacation with her family in the Bahamas, and doing very well.

My sister also has a grandchild who was born with a defective heart who needed immediate surgery. They lived in a remote town 1000 miles northwest of Toronto, working class with few assets, and the best place to have the operation was at the childrens hospital at the University of Toronto. So the healthcare system flew the mother and child down to Toronto, provided hotel accomodations and all expenses for the mother throughout the operation and recovery period, and the child is now a thriving healthy teenager.

I like this system. I get free vacinations for whatever's available. My doctor schedules complex tests for whatever information he wants about me at expert specialist facilities (I've had MRI, CT's, all sorts of ultasound blood vessel inspections etc.) Many other similar cases, daughter's father-in-law (wealthy enough to go anywhere he wants for treatment) recently had a quad bypass done on his heart at the local hospital. There CAN be significant delays for eg. non-critical surgeries like hip replacements, sometimes up to 6 months, but that's a minor sacrifice for universal coverage. Also there's a difficulty keeping enough GP's for everyone to have quick access to a family doctor, and that can cause some headaches for people who don't keep up a relationship with a GP, but there's all sorts of walk-in clinics which can provide basic services.

I don't think many Canadian (except perhaps employees and shills for big US insurance co's and some who are bamboozled by them) would ever regress to the stupid non-universal system. And Canadians have longer life expectancy than US citizens, Canada has a significantly lower infant mortality, and the system only costs us 9% of GDP for universal coverage, whereas US pays over 12% GDP to cover only about 62% some charity. Nuts.

And regarding your "America's education system should be #1 in the world, but it is far from that, because again government incompetence, inefficiency, and lack of competition, all inherent in government", as you say, every other first-world country's education system is better than that in the US, and THEY"RE ALL GOVERNMENT RUN! Get a clue!
lengould100
1 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2009
The single biggest problem with the US education system is that entrance qualifications to most career paths via education are almost entirely wealth / inheritance based rather than qualification based, as in all other comparable countries. You're running a class-based educatin system, and it WILL hurt you. eg. in Denmark, all university education is free for any citizen as long as they can pass the entrance requirements and keep up their standing.
lengould100
1 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2009
nuomenon -- Why can't American auto companies compete with Toyota? Why do those companies need government bailout money now? Because liberals and their Union thugs strong-armed companies to OVERPAY its workers!!!

Not entirely. There may be some instances of worker abuse of payments system, esp. re- unemployment benefits during layoffs/shutdowns, but have you checked changes in executive payments in the same time periods? Also, have you checked the history of worker treatment by manufacturers prior to unionization movements in the 1920's to 1950's? You wouldn't be in favour of going back to slavery also, would you?

Biggest problem with auto industry finances is healthcare liabilities for current workers and for pensioners. Entire solvency problems of Detroit could probably be resolved simply by introducing into US a universal single-payer medical insurancesystem, eg. like Canada (where it gives the auto companies a huge competitive advantage which they often acknowledge in very positive terms).
Noumenon
1 / 5 (3) Feb 12, 2009
noumenon -- For an example of liberal health care study Canada's system, where folks have to wait 6 months for minor care. America's education system should be #1 in the world, but it is far from that, because again government incompetence, inefficiency, and lack of competition, all inherent in government


You're so far off the truth in both instances its hard to know where to begin correcting you. Items:

1) I am Canadian, and always use the Canadian healthcare system. It works. VERY well. My daughter (also living in Canada) was just diagnosed this summer with breast cancer. All of us who love her immediately began evaluating what we could do to help improve her odds. We evaluated the options of a) having here treated in the local single-payer healthcare system b) taking her to one of the large US healthcare institutions. Money would be no object, whatever might have been needed would be provided. After significant heavy research, we determined that her odds were just as good in the local system as in any US medical facility except PERHAPS one in Boston. So she was treated here (3 surgeries, 6 months chemo, 60 radiation treatments, complex and costly drug therapies, etc.) Through the entire process, the only thing any of us were able to provide for her was a very expensive (several thousands) custom real-hair wig, which her wealthy boss insisted on donating to her. Total medical bills were $0. She had no side effects from any of the treaments (thankfully) and continued to go about her standard busy daily routine as CFO large engine distributer, mother of two young children, volunteer at her daughter's dance recitals, etc. The only contribution I found to make was to volunteer to have my head shaved as a fund-raising event at the place I work.

From her research, she's concluded that had she been in the US system, she and her husband would be financially ruined by now, even with standard medical coverage. It cost none of us anything, and she's now on a weeks vacation with her family in the Bahamas, and doing very well.

My sister also has a grandchild who was born with a defective heart who needed immediate surgery. They lived in a remote town 1000 miles northwest of Toronto, working class with few assets, and the best place to have the operation was at the childrens hospital at the University of Toronto. So the healthcare system flew the mother and child down to Toronto, provided hotel accomodations and all expenses for the mother throughout the operation and recovery period, and the child is now a thriving healthy teenager.

I like this system. I get free vacinations for whatever's available. My doctor schedules complex tests for whatever information he wants about me at expert specialist facilities (I've had MRI, CT's, all sorts of ultasound blood vessel inspections etc.) Many other similar cases, daughter's father-in-law (wealthy enough to go anywhere he wants for treatment) recently had a quad bypass done on his heart at the local hospital. There CAN be significant delays for eg. non-critical surgeries like hip replacements, sometimes up to 6 months, but that's a minor sacrifice for universal coverage. Also there's a difficulty keeping enough GP's for everyone to have quick access to a family doctor, and that can cause some headaches for people who don't keep up a relationship with a GP, but there's all sorts of walk-in clinics which can provide basic services.

I don't think many Canadian (except perhaps employees and shills for big US insurance co's and some who are bamboozled by them) would ever regress to the stupid non-universal system. And Canadians have longer life expectancy than US citizens, Canada has a significantly lower infant mortality, and the system only costs us 9% of GDP for universal coverage, whereas US pays over 12% GDP to cover only about 62% some charity. Nuts.

And regarding your "America's education system should be #1 in the world, but it is far from that, because again government incompetence, inefficiency, and lack of competition, all inherent in government", as you say, every other first-world country's education system is better than that in the US, and THEY"RE ALL GOVERNMENT RUN! Get a clue!


I'm glad to hear your daughter got the care she needed. I am also Canadian, living in the USA with most of my family still in Canada. I was careful to state 'for minor care', which you then agreed as follows;

"There CAN be significant delays for eg. non-critical surgeries like hip replacements, sometimes up to 6 months, but that's a minor sacrifice for universal coverage"

Universal health care in the USA would bankrupt the government.

Noumenon
1 / 5 (3) Feb 12, 2009
nuomenon -- Why can't American auto companies compete with Toyota? Why do those companies need government bailout money now? Because liberals and their Union thugs strong-armed companies to OVERPAY its workers!!!

Not entirely. There may be some instances of worker abuse of payments system, esp. re- unemployment benefits during layoffs/shutdowns, but have you checked changes in executive payments in the same time periods? Also, have you checked the history of worker treatment by manufacturers prior to unionization movements in the 1920's to 1950's? You wouldn't be in favour of going back to slavery also, would you?

Biggest problem with auto industry finances is healthcare liabilities for current workers and for pensioners. Entire solvency problems of Detroit could probably be resolved simply by introducing into US a universal single-payer medical insurancesystem, eg. like Canada (where it gives the auto companies a huge competitive advantage which they often acknowledge in very positive terms).


Its not that there is "some instances of worker abuse of payments system", ...the Unions while relevant in the 1920's, are now antiquated, useless, and have bankrupt the American auto industry.

Here are some facts:

The average cost per employee for GM, Ford, and Chrysler is $73 per hour!
The average cost per employee for Toyota-USA is $48.00!

This is 54% higher than for management and professional workers,
132% more than for manufactoring workers,
157% more than the average American worker!!