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Journal Article

Mutation enhances cooperation in direct reciprocity


Hilbe,  Christian       
Max Planck Research Group Dynamics of Social Behavior (Hilbe), Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Tkadlec, J., Hilbe, C., & Nowak, M. A. (2023). Mutation enhances cooperation in direct reciprocity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(20): e2221080120. doi:10.1073/pnas.2221080120.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000D-14D5-C
Direct reciprocity is a powerful mechanism for the evolution of cooperation based on repeated interactions between the same individuals. But high levels of cooperation evolve only if the benefit-to-cost ratio exceeds a certain threshold that depends on memory length. For the best-explored case of one-round memory, that threshold is two. Here, we report that intermediate mutation rates lead to high levels of cooperation, even if the benefit-to-cost ratio is only marginally above one, and even if individuals only use a minimum of past information. This surprising observation is caused by two effects. First, mutation generates diversity which undermines the evolutionary stability of defectors. Second, mutation leads to diverse communities of cooperators that are more resilient than homogeneous ones. This finding is relevant because many real-world opportunities for cooperation have small benefit-to-cost ratios, which are between one and two, and we describe how direct reciprocity can attain cooperation in such settings. Our result can be interpreted as showing that diversity, rather than uniformity, promotes evolution of cooperation.