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Nature. 2008 Jul 10;454(7201):213-6. doi: 10.1038/nature06940.

Social diversity promotes the emergence of cooperation in public goods games.

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  • 1Institut de Recherches Interdisciplinaires et de Développements en Intelligence Artificielle (IRIDIA), Computer and Decision Engineering Department, Université Libre de Bruxelles, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium.


Humans often cooperate in public goods games and situations ranging from family issues to global warming. However, evolutionary game theory predicts that the temptation to forgo the public good mostly wins over collective cooperative action, and this is often also seen in economic experiments. Here we show how social diversity provides an escape from this apparent paradox. Up to now, individuals have been treated as equivalent in all respects, in sharp contrast with real-life situations, where diversity is ubiquitous. We introduce social diversity by means of heterogeneous graphs and show that cooperation is promoted by the diversity associated with the number and size of the public goods game in which each individual participates and with the individual contribution to each such game. When social ties follow a scale-free distribution, cooperation is enhanced whenever all individuals are expected to contribute a fixed amount irrespective of the plethora of public goods games in which they engage. Our results may help to explain the emergence of cooperation in the absence of mechanisms based on individual reputation and punishment. Combining social diversity with reputation and punishment will provide instrumental clues on the self-organization of social communities and their economical implications.

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