SFI Lecture: The Complexity of Competition …

Jessie Barker of the University of Arizona

SFI News:

The Santa Fe Institute will host a seminar, “The Complexity of Competition – How Contested Resources and the Scale of Competition Shape Cooperation in Human Groups” by Jessie Barker at 12:15 p.m. Monday, Oct. 27 in the Collins Conference Room at SFI, 1399 Hyde Park Road in Santa Fe. The SFI host is Caitlin Stern.

Abstract. Cooperation among people across societies is required to solve our most pressing social and environmental problems. Insights from evolutionary biology are already being used to promote cooperative behavior in contexts such as online social networks. Building on such efforts necessitates a deeper understanding of the ways in which people respond to opportunities for competition when making decisions about how much to cooperate. I have examined in a series of studies how different types of competition affect the balance between cooperation and conflict in human groups.

While local competition with close neighbors and the ability to monopolize cooperatively-produced group resources result in lower cooperative contributions and even investments in harming others, leveling mechanisms and “competitive altruism” resulting from partner choice can help to promote cooperative behavior. This is the case not only when people play abstract laboratory economic games, but also in real-life contexts such as donating to a conservation charity. These studies demonstrate that competition affects cooperative behavior in a variety of ways, and that taking an evolutionary perspective not only allows us to identify rigorously the complex effects of competition on cooperation, but also to harness them to solve issues that depend on coordinated cooperative action.