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What Strategies Can Support the Evolutionary Emergence of Cooperation?


  • Jack Hirshleifer
  • Juan Carlos Martinez Coll

    (Center for International and Strategic Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles)


Axelrod found TIT-FOR-TAT to be a highly successful strategy in the Prisoners' Dilemma payoff environment. He concluded that a natural selection process in favor of TIT-FOR-TAT explains the evolutionary emergence of cooperation. This article shows that, contrary to Axelrod, TIT-FOR-TAT does not approach 100% fixation in the population. More generally, TIT-FOR-TAT is not a robustly successful strategy if Axelrod's exact assumptions do not apply—for example, if there is a cost of complexity or a probability of error, or when players compete in an elimination contest rather than a round-robin tournament. In fact, it is unreasonable to expect any single strategy to win out in evolutionary competition. Constructively, we show that the presence of a PUNISHER strategy typically generates, consistent with observation, an interior equilibrium in which more and less cooperative strategies simultaneously coexist.

Suggested Citation

  • Jack Hirshleifer & Juan Carlos Martinez Coll, 1988. "What Strategies Can Support the Evolutionary Emergence of Cooperation?," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 32(2), pages 367-398, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:32:y:1988:i:2:p:367-398
    DOI: 10.1177/0022002788032002006

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Axelrod, Robert, 1981. "The Emergence of Cooperation among Egoists," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 75(2), pages 306-318, June.
    2. Barton Lipman, 1986. "Cooperation among egoists in Prisoners' Dilemma and Chicken games," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 51(3), pages 315-331, January.
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