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The influence of influence in Prisoner’s Dilemma

Cooperation wins out over betrayal when successful prisoners recruit followers

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12:42pm, December 5, 2008

Despite the risk of sleeping with the fishes, prisoners will always choose to be rats — at least, idealized prisoners always do in a classic mathematical scenario meant to explore cooperation and betrayal. But tweaking the scenario to allow successful prisoners to expand their circle of influence causes cooperation to blossom, new research shows.

This new variation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, perhaps the most famous scenario studied in a branch of mathematics called game theory, helps illuminate when and how the players in the game will choose cooperation over betrayal. Previous research has shown that the web of connections among prisoners can lead to cooperation, but this study is the first that allows that web of connections to evolve over time, simulating the ability of successful prisoners to, essentially, win friends and influence people.

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