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Cooperation, Secret Handshakes, and Imitation in the Prisoners' Dilemma

Listed author(s):
  • Thomas Wiseman
  • Okan Yilankaya

In the prisoners' dilemma game, the only evolutionary stable strategy is defection, even though nutual cooperation yields a higher payoff. Building on a paper by Robson (1990), we introduce mutants who have the ability to send a (costly) signal, i.e., the "secret handshake," before each round of the game and to condition their actions on whether or not they observe the same signal from their opponent. A population playing the strategy "always defect" is vulnerable to secret handshake mutants who cooperate when they meet other secret handshakers and defect against tother opponents. However, these secret handshakers are in turn vulberable ot a second round of mutants who imitate the secret handshake and then defect against all opponents. But now a new group of secret handshakers with a different secret handshake can arise. Thus, play can cycle between cooperation and defection. We study the dynamics of that cycling. We show that in the limit, as the probability of mutation goes to zero, cooperation occurs on average half the time. Using simulations to study the implications of our model when the mutation probability is larger than zero, we find that it is possible for cooperation to be sustained for long periods. In general, cooperation is favored when mutual cooperation has aj large payoff advantage over mutual defection, and when the payoff advantage of unilateral defection is small. Surprisingly, however, there are cases where an increased payoff to unilateral defection actually raises the level of cooperation.

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File URL: http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/research/math/papers/1248.pdf
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Paper provided by Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science in its series Discussion Papers with number 1248.

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Date of creation: Jan 1999
Handle: RePEc:nwu:cmsems:1248
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Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science, Northwestern University, 580 Jacobs Center, 2001 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL 60208-2014

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  1. Bergstrom, Theodore C & Stark, Oded, 1993. "How Altruism Can Prevail in an Evolutionary Environment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 149-155, May.
  2. Matsui, Akihiko, 1991. "Cheap-talk and cooperation in a society," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 245-258, August.
  3. Guttman, Joel M., 1996. "Rational actors, tit-for-tat types, and the evolution of cooperation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 27-56, January.
  4. John H. Miller & Carter Butts & David Rode, 1998. "Communication and Cooperation," Working Papers 98-04-037, Santa Fe Institute.
  5. Banerjee, Abhijit & Weibull, Jorgen W., 2000. "Neutrally Stable Outcomes in Cheap-Talk Coordination Games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 1-24, July.
  6. Ockenfels, Peter, 1993. "Cooperation in prisoners' dilemma : An evolutionary approach," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 9(4), pages 567-579, November.
  7. Bhaskar, V., 1998. "Noisy Communication and the Evolution of Cooperation," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 110-131, September.
  8. Frank, Robert H, 1987. "If Homo Economicus Could Choose His Own Utility Function, Would He Want One with a Conscience?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 593-604, September.
  9. Fudenberg, Drew & Maskin, Eric, 1990. "Evolution and Cooperation in Noisy Repeated Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(2), pages 274-279, May.
  10. Kim, Yong-Gwan & Sobel, Joel, 1995. "An Evolutionary Approach to Pre-play Communication," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 63(5), pages 1181-1193, September.
  11. Nachbar, John H., 1992. "Evolution in the finitely repeated prisoner's dilemma," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 307-326, December.
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