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Proc Biol Sci. 2008 Sep 7;275(1646):1985-94. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1685.

Evolution of cooperation with shared costs and benefits.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60607, USA.


The quest to determine how cooperation evolves can be based on evolutionary game theory, in spite of the fact that evolutionarily stable strategies (ESS) for most non-zero-sum games are not cooperative. We analyse the evolution of cooperation for a family of evolutionary games involving shared costs and benefits with a continuum of strategies from non-cooperation to total cooperation. This cost-benefit game allows the cooperator to share in the benefit of a cooperative act, and the recipient to be burdened with a share of the cooperator's cost. The cost-benefit game encompasses the Prisoner's Dilemma, Snowdrift game and Partial Altruism. The models produce ESS solutions of total cooperation, partial cooperation, non-cooperation and coexistence between cooperation and non-cooperation. Cooperation emerges from an interplay between the nonlinearities in the cost and benefit functions. If benefits increase at a decelerating rate and costs increase at an accelerating rate with the degree of cooperation, then the ESS has an intermediate level of cooperation. The game also exhibits non-ESS points such as unstable minima, convergent-stable minima and unstable maxima. The emergence of cooperative behaviour in this game represents enlightened self-interest, whereas non-cooperative solutions illustrate the Tragedy of the Commons. Games having either a stable maximum or a stable minimum have the property that small changes in the incentive structure (model parameter values) or culture (starting frequencies of strategies) result in correspondingly small changes in the degree of cooperation. Conversely, with unstable maxima or unstable minima, small changes in the incentive structure or culture can result in a switch from non-cooperation to total cooperation (and vice versa). These solutions identify when human or animal societies have the potential for cooperation and whether cooperation is robust or fragile.

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