Lifestyle News | Game Theory Suggests Moral Behaviors Pay Off in Long Run

By | November 18, 2022

Bonn [Germany] November 18 (ANI): Cooperation and selflessness cannot be taken for granted. In order to demonstrate why it can be beneficial for people to put self-interests aside, Mohammad Salahshour of the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences (now at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior) has employed a game theory-based approach.

Why we act morally is one of the most fundamental challenges facing humanity. Because it is by no means obvious that, in certain situations, we put aside our own interests and work for a group, sometimes even to the point of self-sacrifice. To solve this moral puzzle, numerous ideas have been devised.

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There are two well-known proposed solutions: that individuals help their relatives so that the common genes survive (kin selection), and that the principle of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” applies. If people help each other, everyone benefits (principle of reciprocity).

Prisoner’s dilemma combined with a coordination game

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Mohammad Salahshour, a mathematician at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, has used game theory’s techniques to explain how moral norms evolve because game theory looks at how rational decision-making occurs in conflict settings. Salahshour’s initial concern was with the reason for the existence of moral standards in the first place.

And why do we have varying moral standards, if not even opposing ones? For instance, while some norms, like “help others,” encourage selfless behavior, others, like dress codes, seem to have little to do with reducing selfishness.

Salahshour combined two games to attempt to answer these questions. The first was the classic prisoner’s dilemma, in which two players must choose between cooperating for a modest reward and betraying themselves for a much larger reward. This game can serve as an archetypal illustration of a social problem in which members of a group must act selflessly in order for the group to succeed. In this game, if too many people act selfishly, everyone loses compared to the case where everyone acts altruistically.

However, if only a few individuals behave selfishly, they can receive a better outcome than their altruistic team members. Second, a game that focuses on typical decisions within groups, such as a coordination task, distribution of resources, choice of a leader, or conflict resolution. Many of these problems can be ultimately categorized as coordination or anti-co-ordination problems.

Without combining the two games, it is obvious that in the Prisoner’s Dilemma, cooperation does not work and, if there are enough selfless players, acting selfishly is the best course of action from the standpoint of the individual. Selfish people, however, are unable to effectively resolve coordination issues and waste a lot of resources since they do not coordinate their work. When moral norms are in play that encourage collaboration, the scenario can take on an entirely new turn. Now, cooperation in the prisoner’s dilemma can suddenly pay off because the gain in the second game more than makes up for the loss in the first game.

Out of self-interest to co-ordination and co-operation

As a result of this process, not only cooperative behavior emerges but also a social order. All individuals benefit from it — and for this reason, moral behavior pays off for them.

“In my evolutionary model, there were no selfless behaviors at the beginning, but more and more moral norms emerged as a result of the coupling of the two games,” Salahshour reports. “Then I observed a sudden transition to a system where there is a lot of cooperation.” In this “moral state,” a set of norms of coordination evolve which help individuals to better coordinate their activity, and it is precisely through this that social norms and moral standards can emerge.

However, coordination norms favor cooperation: cooperation turns out to be a rewarding behavior for the individual as well. Mahammad Salahshour: “A moral system behaves like a Trojan horse: once established out of the individuals’ self-interest to promote order and organization, it also brings self-sacrificing cooperation.”

Salahshour wants to better understand social processes through his work. He says, “This might help make people’s lives better in the future.” Again, he said, two dynamics are at play simultaneously: the exchange of information and the emergence of cooperative strategies.

“But you can also use my game-theoretic approach to explain the emergence of social norms in social media, where people exchange information and make strategic decisions at the same time — for example, who to support or what cause to support,” he said. It is yet unclear how they interact, but perhaps game theory will eventually shed new light on this current problem as well. (ANI)

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