'Anger Controlls Him' by Jessica Flavin (Photo: Jessica Flavin/Wikimedia)
Evolution doesn't favour the selfish, according to a new study by two University of Michigan scientists.
"We found evolution will punish you if you're selfish and mean," lead author Christoph Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, said.
Selfishness may help you in the short term, but over a longer time frame, evolution doesn't reward selfish behaviour.
"For a short time, and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead. But selfishness isn't evolutionarily sustainable," Adami continued.
The paper, which was co-written with Arend Hintze and published in the latest issue of Nature Communications, focuses on game theory, which is used in biology, economics, and political science.
In 2012, a scientific paper explained a strategy that would allow selfish players to "win" in game theory against players who cooperated with others.
That strategy is called "zero-determinant" (ZD) and it raised some questions in the minds of the authors of the new study.
"The paper caused quite a stir," said Adami. "The main result appeared to be completely new, despite 30 years of intense research in this area."
In particular, Adami and Hintze doubted that using a ZD strategy would eliminate all competitors and lead to a world made up of selfish beings.
Using high-powered computers, they ran hundreds of thousands of games to test their theory.
They found that ZD strategies worked well when used against players who were cooperative.
But when a player using ZD strategies encountered another player acting the same way, the approach wasn't nearly as successful.
Another conclusion of the study is that selfishness isn't a sustainable strategy in the long run.
In simulations, even when ZD players managed to eliminate cooperative players, those who were left were forced to evolve away from being selfish in order to survive.
The key to evolutionary success, according to the study's authors, is communication.
"Communication is critical for cooperation," Adami said. "We think communication is the reason cooperation occurs."