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Aug 03, 2013 07:10 AM EDT

Selfish Behavior Condemned By Evolution While Cooperation Works

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New research suggests selfishness is not favored by evolution, despite previous studies supporting just the opposite, BBC News reported.

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers study suggested if a species only practiced selfish behavior, they would have become extinct. The study, published Friday in Nature Communications, used a "prisoner's dilemma" model, a game theory of strategic decision-making.

Game theory simulates conflicts and cooperation scenarios designed to analyze how groups react.

In the prisoner's dilemma model, two suspects are offered the chance to avoid a prison term by informing authorities on the other suspect in an interrogation. If either flipped on the other, they would receive a three-month sentence, but if neither cooperated with authorities, both would get a sentence of one month.

The revered mathematician John Nash, as portrayed by Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind," showed the best method in the prisoner's dilemma scenario is not to cooperate.

"For many years, people have asked that if he [Nash] is right, then why do we see co-operation in the animal kingdom, in the microbial world and in humans," said lead author Christoph Adami of MSU.

He said previous studies did not take communication into account.

"The two prisoners that are interrogated are not allowed to talk to each other," Adami said. "If they did they would make a pact and be free within a month. But if they were not talking to each other, the temptation would be to rat the other out."

In the MSU study, researchers created two hypothetical populations: "suckers" (cooperators) and selfish.

They concluded that the selfish population would attack each other and eventually become extinct quicker. The suckers would win, essentially, by learning to get along.

"You might think that natural selection should favor individuals that are exploitative and selfish, but in fact we now know after decades of research that this is an oversimplified view of things, particularly if you take into account the selfish gene feature of evolution," Andrew Coleman, of Leicester University in the U.K., said.

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