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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Simple moral code supports cooperation

Charles Efferson & Ernst Fehr
Nature
Originally posted March 7, 2018

The evolution of cooperation hinges on the benefits of cooperation being shared among those who cooperate. In a paper in Nature, Santos et al. investigate the evolution of cooperation using computer-based modelling analyses, and they identify a rule for moral judgements that provides an especially powerful system to drive cooperation.

Cooperation can be defined as a behaviour that is costly to the individual providing help, but which provides a greater overall societal benefit. For example, if Angela has a sandwich that is of greater value to Emmanuel than to her, Angela can increase total societal welfare by giving her sandwich to Emmanuel. This requires sacrifice on her part if she likes sandwiches. Reciprocity offers a way for benefactors to avoid helping uncooperative individuals in such situations. If Angela knows Emmanuel is cooperative because she and Emmanuel have interacted before, her reciprocity is direct. If she has heard from others that Emmanuel is a cooperative person, her reciprocity is indirect — a mechanism of particular relevance to human societies.

A strategy is a rule that a donor uses to decide whether or not to cooperate, and the evolution of reciprocal strategies that support cooperation depends crucially on the amount of information that individuals process. Santos and colleagues develop a model to assess the evolution of cooperation through indirect reciprocity. The individuals in their model can consider a relatively large amount of information compared with that used in previous studies.

The review is here.
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