Christoph Adami, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University shows through his study that if you are selfish evolution will punish you. Teaming with Professor Arend Hintze they used hundreds of thousands of game theory simulations in biology, economics, political science and other disciplines to determine their results. They found that those who played the selfish zero-determinant game eventually lost.
Selfish people who were playing against a single cooperative opponent won but lost against multiple players. They took advantage against those who they could recognize and determine their strategies. However, when they played in a larger field and did not know whom they were dealing with and the various types of cooperative and zero-determinant players they were playing against they eventually were beaten into a more cooperative stance.
Let us assume for a moment you are dealing with an inherently selfish person and they have a history of similar activities. Perhaps you would understand their strategies and be selfish yourself so that no player actually has a benefit (equity) or you might adjust your strategies to gain an advantage. In the short term, being selfish may have some level of benefit over cooperative players but eventually the strategy will backfire as that person comes against new players with whom they do not know their history or their strategies.
From an evolutionary stance, the researchers found that selfishness is against one’s own biology and the biology of a species. The species would eventually become extinct if all creatures were selfish and used the most self-seeking strategies. The game theory simulations found that in the end, the selfish players eventually always lost and would become extinct over time.
This is great news for people who wonder why selfish people seem to get away with so much. Such people are taking advantage of others but in the end fail in their long-term strategies. Their strategies work when dealing with individuals whom they know and understand but fail over time. When they do not know the other players strategies or misunderstand the other person their advantages minimize. Selfishness becomes counterproductive.
Let us reverse the situation and put a consistently cooperative person in the game. This cooperative person would lose in the short-run against selfish people but would eventually win over time as trust and cooperation bring mutual benefits. Society could not exist with all players being selfish and would not collectively adapt to challenges. It would disintegrate into chaos and mutual destruction.
Generally, in game theory the cooperative players will devise new strategies so that selfish players do not have a large advantage. We do this naturally in life as we deal and learn from each other. Whether one is talking about criminal networks, dating, or simply business…equity will eventually result. Perhaps in the wider spectrum of things cooperative players will work together to completely oust uncooperative players.
Let us view this in terms of a society. At two ends of the extreme, you have all cooperative players and another society has all selfish zero-determinate players. The cooperative society can hedge their skills and abilities for mutual survival. The society with zero-determinant players is a chaotic network that cannot work together, cannot adapt, and will eventually decline. Has history yet taught us that societies with high levels of corruption, self-seeking behavior, and a basic disrespect for law and cooperation eventually decline or collapse?
Adami, C. & Hintze, A. (2013). Evolutional instabilityof zero-determinant strategies demonstrates that winning is not everything.Nature Communications, 4 (2193).