People who know how to be selfish are most likely to prosper, says science

Josh Barrie@JoshBythesea
Wednesday 13 January 2016 16:00
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Do you know when to follow the pack and cooperate, and when to defect and be, well, selfish?

Yale University has developed a mathematical model that underpins why some people are naturally more of a 'douchebag' more than others.

The study looks at how humans have adapted and evolved to channel intuition - to deliberate and work with people, or not, depending.

Phys.org writes that the model, which was formed by Yale's Adam Bear and David Rand, allows us to better understand "why some people are always jerks".

Bear and Rand asked participants to play games where the choice is to either be helpful or selfish. In some of the games it paid off to work to personal goals, in others, to work alongside others.

Phys explains:

This is what the model predicts will happen: People who come from a supportive and friendly environment learn intuitively to cooperate—even with strangers where there is no potential payoff—because they have often benefited from such generous behavior. However, if they take time to deliberate, they overrule their cooperative instinct if they realize there is no possibility of future payoff.

People who are typically surrounded by jerks, on the other hand, learn intuitively to be selfish—and also learn not to deliberate. So, the model shows, they wind up acting selfishly even when cooperating would actually pay off, because they don't stop to think.

The Yale study obviously delves a lot deeper into the subject.

The research page notes that the role of intuition vs deliberation in human cooperation has always been fascinating - but how we actually measure it hasn't really been worked out.

Ultimately, the study shows that in terms of survival, either being inherently selfish, or knowing when to be, supplies individuals with a better chance of survival.

In everyday life, people who seem selfish - whether they're naturally so or consciously choosing to be - aren't in your top list of Facebook friends.

But if aliens came to take over the world, it's likely they'd live longer than someone amazingly 'nice'.

As Yale explains:

We find that, across many types of environments, evolution only ever favours agents who (i) always intuitively defect, or (ii) are intuitively predisposed to cooperate but who, when deliberating, switch to defection if it is in their self-interest to do so. Our model offers a clear explanation for why we should expect deliberation to promote selfishness rather than cooperation and unifies apparently contradictory empirical results regarding intuition and cooperation.

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