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The Evolutionary Dominance of Ethnocentric Cooperation

Source: Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation “The Evolutionary Dominance of Ethnocentric Cooperation”

Human beings are not always (or completely) engulfed in a war of tribe against tribe. In other words, we are not strictly “ethnocentric” in our cooperation: we are willing to cooperate with those not directly identified as our “in group”. This modeling study suggests that ethnocentric cooperation should dominate naively pluralistic (so-called “humanitarian”) cooperation, so something beyond the mechanisms explored in this model must be at play in human societies.

Recent agent-based computer simulations suggest that ethnocentrism, often thought to rely on complex social cognition and learning, may have arisen through biological evolution. From a random start, ethnocentric strategies dominate other possible strategies (selfish, traitorous, and humanitarian) based on cooperation or non-cooperation with in-group and out-group agents. Here we show that ethnocentrism eventually overcomes its closest competitor, humanitarianism, by exploiting humanitarian cooperation across group boundaries as world population saturates. Selfish and traitorous strategies are self-limiting because such agents do not cooperate with agents sharing the same genes. Traitorous strategies fare even worse than selfish ones because traitors are exploited by ethnocentrics across group boundaries in the same manner as humanitarians are, via unreciprocated cooperation. By tracking evolution across time, we find individual differences between evolving worlds in terms of early humanitarian competition with ethnocentrism, including early stages of humanitarian dominance. Our evidence indicates that such variation, in terms of differences between humanitarian and ethnocentric agents, is normally distributed and due to early, rather than later, stochastic differences in immigrant strategies.

  1. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to favor one’s own group at the expense of other groups. It is implicated in a variety of important phenomena from voting patterns to ethnic discrimination and armed conflict. It is widely believed in social science that ethnocentrism involves extensive social learning and considerable social and cognitive abilities (Hewstone, Rubin, & Willis 2002; LeVine & Campbell 1972; Sherif 1966). However, there is also evidence that ethnocentrism is common throughout a diverse range of animal (Chase 1980) and even plant (Dudley & File 2007; Runyon, Mescher & De Moraes 2006) species. Such evidence suggests that ethnocentrism may be rooted in biological evolution, and that its essential cognitive component is quite simple: the ability to distinguish in- vs. out-group members and select different behaviors based on that distinction. A striking example from red fire ants is that queens without a particular gene are detected and killed at birth by worker ants (Keller & Ross 1998).
  2. Recent computer simulations with simple abstract agents demonstrate that ethnocentrism can indeed originate through evolutionary processes (Hammond & Axelrod 2006a, 2006b). The agents in these simulations can either defect against, or cooperate with, other in-group or out-group agents, generating four possible strategies: (a) a selfish strategy of constant defection, (b) a traitorous strategy of cooperation with out-group, but not in-group, agents, (c) an ethnocentric strategy of cooperation within one’s own group but not with agents from different groups, and (d) a humanitarian strategy of indiscriminate cooperation. From a random starting point, ethnocentrism evolves to become the dominant strategy under some variation in parameter settings, eventually characterizing about 75% of the world population. Our present work attempts to explain the evolutionary fates of each of these four strategies, and thus more fully understand the processes that may lead to ethnocentric dominance. We present two studies that test hypotheses for explaining ethnocentric dominance and two other studies documenting and explaining variation in early humanitarian competitiveness. We start by describing the simulation (Hammond & Axelrod 2006b) on which our work is based. We presented preliminary data on some of these issues in two conference papers (Shultz, Hartshorn & Hammond 2008; Shultz, Hartshorn & Kaznatcheev 2009), but much of the data, analyses, and interpretation presented here is new.
  3. The Original Simulation of Ethnocentric Dominance

  4. Interacting agents in virtually any social situation can choose to cooperate with each other or not. In the terminology of game theory, defection is the opposite of cooperation. The classic, non-zero-sum game often used to study such interactions is Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD). In PD games, two autonomous agents choose, independent of the other’s decision, whether to cooperate with or defect against the other. Table 1 displays the payoffs for PD interaction, computed for Player 1 as the benefit b of receiving cooperation minus the cost c of giving it. In relatively abundant environments with some degree of social specialization, the cost is typically less than the benefit. In the simulations discussed here, cost = 0.01 and benefit = 0.03. The payoff is added to Player 1’s reproductive potential RP. The best overall outcome occurs when both players cooperate, the worst when both defect. The dilemma arises because of the temptation to defect, which can yield an even higher payoff b for a defector against a cooperator. In this case, the cooperator incurs the cost of c without receiving any benefit.

Table 1

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