Game theory suggests memory and cooperation evolved

“A new study by Joshua Plotkin, a professor in the Department of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences, and Alexander Stewart, a former postdoctoral researcher at Penn who is now at University College London,” suggests that enhanced long term memory has a close association with cooperative tendencies in group/sharing environments.

Joshua Plotkin

In their study, they found that “the capacity for longer memories promotes the emergence of cooperation. They also find, perhaps intuitively, that cooperative strategies are more likely to evolve in smaller groups rather than larger ones.” This is an extremely interesting discovery to ponder because although they found that enhanced long term memory indicates group cooperation, they also found that this phenomenon is more common in smaller groups rather than larger groups. Why though?

Personally, I believe that no matter what concept is being evaluated, any tendency will be more apparent in a smaller group because there are less people to evaluate and less major errors to encounter. When looking at a larger group, the large amount of data allows for an increase in inconsistent findings. This idea sits closely with the idea that the less people there are, the less chance there’s that one person who will screw everything up.

“Our analysis sheds light on the circumstances that govern behavior in social situations,” says Plotkin. “We see that longer memories allow for a wider range of behaviors that are cooperative, to the mutual benefit of all the individuals in a given group.”

The actual study itself employed the idea of the renowned “public-goods game” in which an individual decides how much of a personal resource to share with those around them. This is very similar to the $1.00 game that we have explored in class. Although each person could come out with no money, this experiment focuses solely on the concept of actually sharing that wealth rather than scheming for a way to come out with more money than the other person.

“Next for Stewart and Plotkin is to test whether the relationships between memory, group size, and cooperation seen in their analyses hold up in an experimental game with human players.” I think that this quote is very representative of our culture as a whole in that everybody is constantly looking for a way to better our understanding of human nature and technological advances as a whole.



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