First published July 1 2016
Social Learning, Environmental Adversity and the Evolution of Cooperation
Social learning plays a key role in the evolution of cooperation in humans and other animals. It has also been shown both theoretically and experimentally that environmental adversity is also a key determinant of the evolution of cooperation among individuals. Here we investigate the impact of social learning on the evolution of cooperation in the context of a range of levels of environmental adversity. We used an agent-based simulated world of asexual individuals that communicate and play a probabilistic version of the Prisoners Dilemma game. We considered simulated worlds either with or without random spreading of the offspring and two variants of social learning, either copying to some extent all communication rules or copying fully some of the communication rules of the best performing neighbor individual. The results show that in the case of spreading of the offspring, social learning increases the level of cooperation and reverses the association between this and the level of environmental adversity, i.e. low adversity with social learning implies higher level of cooperation. Copying fully some communication rules also increases the steady-state level of communication complexity in the simulated agent communities. The results suggest that the level of cooperation in communities of individuals may get boosted alternately by highly adverse environments and by layers of social learning in low adversity environments.