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Evolution of vulnerability to pain in interpersonal relations as a strategic trait aiding cooperation


  • Dimitry Rtischev



Why are humans so vulnerable to pain in interpersonal relations and can so easily hurt others physically and emotionally? We theoretically examine whether being offensively strong but defensively weak can evolve as a strategic trait that fosters cooperation. We study a population comprised of "thick-skinned" and "thin-skinned" agents by using an indirect evolution model that combines rational choice in strategic interactions with evolutionary selection across generations. We find that (a) the relatively vulnerable and cooperative thin-skins cannot evolve under purely random matching, (b) with some assortment thin-skins evolve and can take over the entire population, (c) vulnerability to greater pain makes it easier for thin-skins to evolve, and (d) proximate pain which merely feels bad but does not lower fitness helps thin-skins evolve even more than pain which accurately reflects fitness consequences. We draw contrast with the Hawk-Dove model and identify several ways in which rationality hinders the evolution of the relatively vulnerable and peaceful type of agent.
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Suggested Citation

  • Dimitry Rtischev, 2011. "Evolution of vulnerability to pain in interpersonal relations as a strategic trait aiding cooperation," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 21(5), pages 757-782, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:joevec:v:21:y:2011:i:5:p:757-782
    DOI: 10.1007/s00191-010-0179-z

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Siegfried Berninghaus & Werner Güth & Hartmut Kliemt, "undated". "From Teleology to Evolution Bridging the gap between rationality and adaptation in social explanation," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2002-24, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kopányi-Peuker, Anita & Offerman, Theo & Sloof, Randolph, 2017. "Fostering cooperation through the enhancement of own vulnerability," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 101(C), pages 273-290.

    More about this item


    Cooperation; Conflict avoidance; Hawk-Dove; Pain; Emotions; Vulnerability; Indirect evolution; Assortative matching; C73; D03; D74;

    JEL classification:

    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D74 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Alliances; Revolutions
    • C73 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Stochastic and Dynamic Games; Evolutionary Games


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