Friday, November 09, 2007

Coevolution of Parochial Altruism and War

Choi and Bowles offer an interesting game theoretic analysis that suggests why the combination of loyalty towards one's own group and hostility towards outsiders seems to be such a fixed constant of human societies. Here is their abstract:
Altruism—benefiting fellow group members at a cost to oneself—and parochialism—hostility toward individuals not of one's own ethnic, racial, or other group—are common human behaviors. The intersection of the two—which we term "parochial altruism"—is puzzling from an evolutionary perspective because altruistic or parochial behavior reduces one's payoffs by comparison to what one would gain by eschewing these behaviors. But parochial altruism could have evolved if parochialism promoted intergroup hostilities and the combination of altruism and parochialism contributed to success in these conflicts. Our game-theoretic analysis and agent-based simulations show that under conditions likely to have been experienced by late Pleistocene and early Holocene humans, neither parochialism nor altruism would have been viable singly, but by promoting group conflict, they could have evolved jointly.
A review by Arrow explains the simulation:
In Choi and Bowles' simulation, 20 small groups of agents interact over thousands of generations. Agents have two genes, each with two alleles. They are either tolerant (T) or parochial (P) and either altruistic (A) or not (N). Offspring inherit their parents'traits, with occasional random mutations. Altruists help fellow group members at a personal cost; non-altruists do not. Tolerant agents have lucrative exchanges with outsiders; parochial agents do not. A high proportion of parochials in groups restricts trading opportunities for all....The societies that evolve are stable in two conditions: when either selfish traders (TN) or generous warriors (PA) are the dominant type. A few PN bullies and even fewer TA philanthropists can coexist within trader or warrior regimes. The trading regime is peaceful. Standoffs and wars are more common in the warrior regime, but even infrequent war--10 to 20% of encounters--can maintain high levels of parochial altruism. Similar findings for the impact of intermittent war on the evolution of heroism (6) suggest that war need not be "constant" to act as a powerful selective force...The convergence of altruism and parochialism in Choi and Bowles' simulation is consistent with links between the two found in behavioral studies. Selfish choices in social dilemma experiments, for example, diminish markedly when the game is embedded in an intergroup context.

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