Ever heard of the Prisoner’s Dilemma? There are lots of different versions, but each of them has boggled the greatest minds over the last few decades. The version AsapSCIENCE lays out above is you’ve got two people, squaring off against each other. Each of them has two cards, one says “Cooperate”, the other says “Defect”. Each round, each player chooses and plays one card, face-down. Once that’s done, flip the cards and see what happens.
If both players chose to play “Cooperate”, they both win $300. If both players chose to play “Defect”, they both lose $10. If one player chooses to play “Cooperate” and the other plays “Defect”, the person who plays “Defect” wins $500 and the person who plays “Cooperate” loses $100.
So what’s the dilemma here? Well, the worst that can happen if you play “Defect” is you’ll lose $10, and there’s a good chance you’ll win $500. If you play “Cooperate”? You stand to lost $100, which is a pretty big risk. This means that the best, most logical move you could make is “Defect”, and yet, if both players play their smartest move, we’ll always lose, knowing that if they’d only cooperated, everyone would have been happier, and $300 richer.
And here’s where the science comes into it. The latest episode of AsapSCIENCE explains that scientists have created computer simulations that can test out different strategies in the Prisoner’s Dilemma over hundreds and hundreds of rounds.
They found that the most successful strategy was one that always started with “Cooperate”, and then for every move after that, copied their opponent’s previous move. This strategy ended up making the most cash in all simulations compared to any other strategy the scientists could come up with.
Okay that’s pretty smart, but we’re supposed to be talking about nice guys here. Well, did you notice that the smartest Prisoner’s Dilemma strategy always started out with the ‘nice’ option to “Cooperate”? Plus, the most successful strategy was quick to forgive their opponent for deceiving them, and were non-envious because they were happy when their opponent won just as much money as them.
Whereas, any strategy that tried to trick their opponent or played “Defect” more often started out winning a bunch of cash, but then ended up with less than the ‘nice’ strategy over the long term. And this trend didn’t come from just the best strategy, the top seven strategies the scientists found across the board, were all ‘nice’ ones, says AsapSCIENCE.
So then how does this apply to real world, from an evolutionary perspective? You’re going to have to watch the video by the nice guys at AsapSCIENCE above to find out.