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Engineering cooperation

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Rosalie Bishop
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When what we want as individuals clashes with what is best for the group, we have a social dilemma.

In a paper released today in Nature, Christian Hilbe and Krishnendu Chatterjee of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), together with Martin Nowak of Harvard and Stepan Simsa of Charles University, have shown that if the social dilemma that individuals face is dependent on whether or not they work together, cooperation can triumph.

The tragedy of the commons: if we can (ab)use a public good without seeing negative consequences, we will--without consideration of others or the future.

We see examples of this in our daily lives, from climate change and forest depletion down to the stack of dirty dishes in the office kitchen.

In game theory, scientists have used repeated games--repeated interactions where individuals face the same social dilemma each time--to understand when individuals choose to cooperate, i.e.

However, these games have always kept the value of the public resource constant, no matter how players acted in the previous round--something that does not reflect reality of the situation.

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