Facts, not Fantasy

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Today in the News (9 July, 2009)


In today's issue of Science Daily (9 July, 2009), there is this article -- "Evolution Guides Cooperative Turn-taking, Game Theory-based Computer Simulations Show" -- on how turn-taking has evolved across a range of species. According to new research by University of Leicester psychologists: It’s not just good manners to wait your turn – it’s actually down to evolution.

A study in the University’s School of Psychology sought to explain how turn-taking has evolved across a range of species. The conclusion is that there is an evolution-based 'invisible hand' that guides our actions in this respect. What's more, the researchers have shown that this behaviour can be simulated using a simple computer algorithm and basic genetic laws.

Professor Andrew Colman, who carried out the study with his colleague Dr. Lindsay Browning, stated: “In human groups, turn-taking is usually planned and coordinated with the help of language. For example, people living together often agree to take turns washing up the dishes after meals or taking their children to school. [However], turn-taking has also evolved in many other species without language or the capacity to reach negotiated agreements. These include apes, monkeys, birds, and antelopes that take turns grooming each other, and mating pairs of Antarctic penguins that take turns foraging at sea while their partners incubate eggs or tend to chicks.

“It is far from obvious how turn-taking evolved without language or insight in animals shaped by natural selection to pursue their individual self-interests.”

The researchers also say that playing 'tit for tat' – copying in each time period whatever the other individual did in the previous period ­– can explain synchronized cooperation, but cannot fully explain turn-taking; e.g., many predatory animals hunt in pairs or larger groups, and this involves synchronized cooperation. ‘Tit for tat’ has been shown to work very well in initiating and sustaining this type of cooperation.

However, where cooperation involves turn-taking, a ‘tit for tat’ instinct could sustain the pattern once it was established, but could not initiate it in the first place; e.g., in a mating pair of penguins who both went foraging or both incubated the eggs at the same time, ‘tit for tat’ would not be enough to evolve the habit of taking turns.

Using evolutionary game theory and computer simulations, Professor Colman and Dr. Browning discovered a simple variation of 'tit for tat' that explains how turn-taking can evolve in organisms that pursue their individual self-interests robotically.

The researchers state: “Turn-taking is initiated only after a species has evolved at least two genetically different types that behave differently in initial, uncoordinated interactions with others. Then as soon as a pair coordinates by chance, they instinctively begin to play ‘tit for tat’. This locks them into mutually beneficial coordinated turn-taking indefinitely. Without genetic diversity, turn-taking cannot evolve in this simple way.”

Professor Colman added: “In our simulations, the individuals were computer programs that were not only dumb and robotic but also purely selfish. Nevertheless, they ended up taking turns in perfect coordination. We published indirect evidence for this in 2004; we have now shown it directly and found a simple explanation for it. Our findings confirm that cooperation does not always require benevolence or deliberate planning. This form of cooperation, at least, is guided by an ‘invisible hand’, as happens so often in Darwin’s theory of natural selection.”

As a British citizen, I find this interesting because it is reminiscent of the "Dunkirk spirit" that is exhibited by the British species.

However, the American species finds that sort of behaviour rather strange, whose typical behaviour is illustrated below:

Western Saloon Brawl

As for the female of the American species, they are even worse, as was observed in the archived newspaper article via this link: Pandemonium reigns as customers fight over dolls.

Those department store security guards who have survived the Cabbage Patch Doll sale battles in the early 1980s, now recollect with great trepidation, in their retirement years, their bitter experiences of those times while their friends and relations, that have gathered around, listen intently with hushed awe that is usually reserved for an old soldier.

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