How to balance cooperation and selfishness? Suggestions from statistical physics
A statistical physics model could explain the key role of social norms in promoting cooperation and stability in organized biological systems (such as those belonging to bees and ants) and how this behaviour can characterize also human cooperation systems that reach a given critical point.
The study, published in Physical Review, was conducted by Nasa Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence in collaboration with the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the National Research Council in Rome and the University of Cartagena.
“The concept of critical points has been adapted from statistical physics”, said CNR researcher Giulia Andrighetto “and indicates the state of a system that is exactly on the boundary between two different phases, which can increase adaptability of the system to changing external conditions. In our work we demonstrate how human groups who cooperate can reach a critical point, which comes when members consider the social norms of their group”.
The result was achieved by developing a statistical physics model where subjects decide whether to cooperate or not, balancing selfishness and compliance to social norms. The researchers were able to reproduce the choices that actual human subjects had made in recent laboratory experiments.
Data confirmed that human beings take decisions by balancing the possible economic gains of a choice and compliance with the norms ruling their group.
“Research of this kind could provide instruments for governance in the future that would be useful for promoting the fine balance between individual and collective interests that is the base of human cooperation”, concluded Andrighetto.