Understanding the Social Dynamics That Cause Cooperation to Thrive, or Fail

Erol Akçay news

In a new report in the journal Nature Communications, Erol Akçay, an assistant professor of biology, addresses the question of how an evolving social network influences the likelihood of cooperation in a theoretical social group. He finds that, although networks where connected individuals are closely related are more likely to cooperate, such groups can trigger a feedback loop that alters the structure of the network and leads to cooperation’s collapse.

Examples of cooperation abound in nature, from honeybee hives to human families. Yet it’s also easy enough to find examples of selfishness and conflict. Studying the conditions that give rise to cooperation has occupied researchers for generations, with implications for understanding the forces that drive workplace dynamics, charitable giving, animal behavior, even international relations.

“We know from a half-century of study that cooperation is quite easy to evolve in principle,” says Akçay, “in the sense that there are many, many sets of conditions that can make cooperative behaviors a better strategy than non-cooperative behaviors. So given that, why isn’t the world a cooperative paradise? Because we know it isn’t.”

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