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Solving the puzzle of cooperation in group environments

Research has shown that when two meet repeatedly they are more likely to cooperate with one another. and colleagues from the show that the most successful strategy for cooperation occurs only after an experience of group unanimous behaviour.

In this week’s , the authors explore the core principles of the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ as applied to decision-making within a group environment. The prisoner’s dilemma of cooperation is a useful metaphor employed in situations where personal interests impel individuals to make decisions that oppose the interests of the group.

Using an Evolutionary Game Theory model, the authors investigate whether cooperation might emerge in individuals who assemble into groups that interact through repeated ‘Public Goods Games’, where individuals may contribute to a common pool, subsequently sharing the resources.

The authors explore a large set of possible responses that depend on previous levels of . The most successful strategy for cooperation, which they call ‘All-or-None’, only occurs following a round of unanimous and is both cooperative and punitive.

The results of the study may find applications to biological, technological, social and economic studies that incorporate some form of cooperation or coordination within groups, from group hunting and social welfare to climate change negotiations.


Evolution of All-or-None Strategies in Repeated Public Goods Dilemmas, Pinheiro FL, Vasconcelos VV, Santos FC, Pacheco JM, PLOS Computational Biology, doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003945, published 13 November 2014.

This research was supported by FEDER through POFC – COMPETE and by FCT-Portugal through fellowships SFRH/BD/77389/2011 and SFRH/BD/86465/2012, by grants PTDC/MAT/122897/2010 and EXPL/EEI-SII/2556/2013, by multi-annual funding of CMAF-UL, CBMA-UM and INESC-ID (under the projects PEst-OE/MAT/UI0209/2013, PEst-OE/BIA/UI4050/2014 and PEst-OE/EEI/LA0021/2013) provided by FCT-Portugal, and by Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian through the ‘‘Stimulus to Research’’ program for young researchers. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.