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Pages 159-166
First published 2 September 2013

The coevolution of costly heterogeneities and cooperation in the prisoner's dilemma game

Markus Brede, Jason Noble


This paper discusses the co-evolution of social strategies and an efficiency trait in spatial evolutionary games. The continuous efficiency trait determines how well a player can convert gains from a prisoner's dilemma game into evolutionary fitness. It is assumed to come at a cost proportional to its magnitude and this cost is deducted from payoff. We demonstrate that cost ranges exist such that the regime in which cooperation can persist is strongly extended by the co-evolution of efficiencies and strategies. We find that cooperation typically associates with large efficiencies while defection tends to pair with lower efficiencies. The simulations highlight that social dilemma situations in structured populations can be resolved in a natural way: the nature of the dilemma itself leads to differential pressures for efficiency improvement in cooperator and defector populations. Cooperators benefit by larger improvements which allow them to survive even in the face of inferior performance in the social dilemma. Importantly, the mechanism is possible with and without the presence of noise in the evolutionary replication process.