Tit-for-tat and how to encourage co-operation

Something on direct reciprocity (I may post on ‘indirect reciprocity’ another time).

When workers decide to stick together, against a powerful adversary, the ability to trust each other is very important. If two workers agree to stick to a rate of pay and refuse work that is offered below that rate, there is always the worry that one of them, desperate for income, will quietly accept the work.

They will have ‘defected’ from their pact, instead of ‘co-operating’.

How can we design an agreement of this kind – one where the aim is to co-operate – in such a way that participants are least likely to ‘defect’?

Martin Nowak’s excellent Super Cooperators book answers this with reference, firstly to the game theory classic, the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

… before moving onto some observation from nature on how small fish inspect potential predators to find out if they’re hungry (‘predator inspection‘ is a very important bit of information for fish who – if they scatter every time they see one predator are in danger of swimming into another one.

“When a shoal of small fish has detected a pike, they usually do not flee or hide. Instead an individual or a small group of fish may leave the safety of the shoal and approach the predator to inspect it from a short distance…”

In this instance, there is a big trust game that involves the small fish remaining equidistant from the predator. If some fish ‘defect’ the others get eaten.

There is a lot of maths that reveals the best way to promote co-operation, and it’s not as obvious as you’d think…

Here’s Martin Nowak at the RSA:

There’s lots more from Nowak here.

… and short taster of this thinking here;

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