Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Selfishness May Be Altruism's Unexpected Ally

Date:
May 2, 2008
Source:
Binghamton University
Summary:
Just as religions dwell upon the eternal battle between good and evil, angels and devils, evolutionary theorists dwell upon the eternal battle between altruistic and selfish behaviors in the Darwinian struggle for existence. Evolutionary theorists now suggest that selfishness might not be such a villain after all.

Just as religions dwell upon the eternal battle between good and evil, angels and devils, evolutionary theorists dwell upon the eternal battle between altruistic and selfish behaviors in the Darwinian struggle for existence. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), evolutionary theorists at Binghamton University suggest that selfishness might not be such a villain after all.

Related Articles


Omar Tonsi Eldakar and David Sloan Wilson propose a novel solution to this problem in their article, which is available in the online Early Edition of PNAS. They point out that selfish individuals have their own incentive to get rid of other selfish individuals within their own group.

Eldakar and Wilson consider a behavioral strategy called "Selfish Punisher," which exploits altruists and punishes other selfish individuals, including other selfish punishers. This strategy might seem hypocritical in moral terms but it is highly successful in Darwinian terms, according to their theoretical model published in PNAS and a computer simulation model published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. Selfish punishers can invade the population when rare but then limit each other, preventing the altruists from being completely eliminated.

Individuals who behave altruistically are vulnerable to exploitation by more selfish individuals within their own group, but groups of altruists can robustly out-compete more selfish groups. Altruism can therefore evolve by natural selection as long as its collective advantage outweighs its more local disadvantage. All evolutionary theories of altruism reflect this basic conflict between levels of selection.

It might seem that the local advantage of selfishness can be eliminated by punishment, but punishment is itself a form of altruism. For instance, if you pay to put a criminal in jail, all law-abiding citizens benefit but you paid the cost. If someone else pays you to put the criminal in jail, this action costs those individuals something that other law-abiding citizens didn't have to pay. Economists call this the higher-order public goods problem. Rewards and punishments that enforce good behavior are themselves forms of good behavior that are vulnerable to subversion from within.

Eldakar and Wilson first began thinking about selfish punishment on the basis of a study on humans, which indeed showed that the individuals most likely to cheat were also most likely to punish other cheaters. Similar examples appear to exist in non-human species, including worker bees that prevent other workers from laying eggs while laying a few of their own.

Is selfish punishment really so hypocritical in moral terms? According to Eldakar and Wilson, it can be looked at another way - as a division of labor. Altruists ‘pay’ the selfish punishers by allowing themselves to be exploited, while the selfish punishers return the favor with their second-order altruism. “That way, no one needs to pay the double cost required of an altruist who also punishes others,” says Eldakar. “If so, then the best groups might be those that include a few devils along with the angels.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Binghamton University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Binghamton University. "Selfishness May Be Altruism's Unexpected Ally." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 May 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080501163455.htm>.
Binghamton University. (2008, May 2). Selfishness May Be Altruism's Unexpected Ally. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080501163455.htm
Binghamton University. "Selfishness May Be Altruism's Unexpected Ally." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080501163455.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, October 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Studying Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

Studying Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is studying the popular Music and Memory program to see if music, which helps improve the mood of Alzheimer's patients, can also reduce the use of prescription drugs for those suffering from dementia. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

AFP (Oct. 27, 2014) Coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools across the UK. Making it the first major world economy to overhaul its IT teaching and put programming at its core. Duration: 02:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins