Signalling boosts the evolution of cooperation in repeated group interactions

13 Apr 2021  ·  Luis A. Martinez-Vaquero, Francisco C. Santos, Vito Trianni ·

Many biological and social systems show significant levels of collective action. Several cooperation mechanisms have been proposed, yet they have been mostly studied independently. Among these, direct reciprocity supports cooperation on the basis of repeated interactions among individuals. Signals and quorum dynamics may also drive cooperation. Here, we resort to an evolutionary game theoretical model to jointly analyse these two mechanisms and study the conditions in which evolution selects for direct reciprocity, signalling, or their combination. We show that signalling alone leads to higher levels of cooperation than when combined with reciprocity, while offering additional robustness against errors. Specifically, successful strategies in the realm of direct reciprocity are often not selected in the presence of signalling, and memory of past interactions is only exploited opportunistically in case of earlier coordination failure. Differently, signalling always evolves, even when costly. In the light of these results, it may be easier to understand why direct reciprocity has been observed only in a limited number of cases among non-humans, whereas signalling is widespread at all levels of complexity.

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