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PLoS Comput Biol. 2010 May 13;6(5):e1000782. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000782.

Inductive game theory and the dynamics of animal conflict.

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Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States of America.


Conflict destabilizes social interactions and impedes cooperation at multiple scales of biological organization. Of fundamental interest are the causes of turbulent periods of conflict. We analyze conflict dynamics in an monkey society model system. We develop a technique, Inductive Game Theory, to extract directly from time-series data the decision-making strategies used by individuals and groups. This technique uses Monte Carlo simulation to test alternative causal models of conflict dynamics. We find individuals base their decision to fight on memory of social factors, not on short timescale ecological resource competition. Furthermore, the social assessments on which these decisions are based are triadic (self in relation to another pair of individuals), not pairwise. We show that this triadic decision making causes long conflict cascades and that there is a high population cost of the large fights associated with these cascades. These results suggest that individual agency has been over-emphasized in the social evolution of complex aggregates, and that pair-wise formalisms are inadequate. An appreciation of the empirical foundations of the collective dynamics of conflict is a crucial step towards its effective management.

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