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Knowing the past improves cooperation in the future

Cooperation is the cornerstone of human evolutionary success. Like no other species, we champion the sacrifice of personal benefits for the common good, and we work together to achieve what we are unable to achieve alone. Knowledge and information from past generations is thereby often instrumental in ensuring we keep cooperating rather than deteriorating to less productive ways of coexistence.

Here we present a mathematical model based on evolutionary game theory that shows how using the past as the benchmark for evolutionary success, rather than just current performance, significantly improves cooperation in the future. Interestingly, the details of just how the past is taken into account play only second-order importance, whether it be a weighted average of past payoffs or just a single payoff value from the past. Cooperation is promoted because information from the past disables fast invasions of defectors, thus enhancing the long-term benefits of cooperative behavior.


Z. Danku, M. Perc, A. Szolnoki, Knowing the past improves cooperation in the future, Scientific Reports 9 262 (2019)

Matjaz Perc

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