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Prisoner’s Dilemma Applied to Evolutionary Biology

After learning about game theory and the prisoner’s dilemma game in class, I read an article that applies the prisoner’s dilemma game to evolutionary biology and analyzes how groups of organisms behave. Physicist Freeman Dyson and computer scientist William Press found a new solution to the prisoner’s dilemma game. Their findings drew attention to organism cooperation because cooperation has been often regarded as a best strategy for organisms to survive in a large group. Although the process of natural selection is based on the concept of “survival of the fittest,” studying organisms has allowed biologists to realize that it is common for creatures to act selfishly but simultaneously help other organisms.

Dyson and Press’ new solution to the prisoner’s dilemma game revealed that the best strategies for organisms were actually selfish ones. Theoretical biologist Plotkin expressed his concern with this conclusion because scientific evidence has shown that cooperative behavior is common in nature. Plotkin’s own experimental results were relatively inconclusive in determining whether selfish behavior or cooperative behavior is the best strategy because he found that in some instances, cooperative behavior was the best strategy but if certain conditions were altered, then acting selfishly was the best course of action. He continued by studying how the best course of action depends on how the prisoner’s dilemma game is played. When Plotkin analyzed a group of evolving creatures, he found out that the size of the group and how many times the game is played impacts the best strategy. When a creature has only one opponent or if the game is played just once, it is best to act selfishly. However, if the prisoner’s dilemma game is played multiple times or if there’s a large group of organisms, in the long run, in order to survive, it is better to cooperate with and help others, even if it means putting themselves at risk because eventually, the other creatures will somehow help them in return.


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September 2018