Research Highlights - April 2019

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As Machiavelli could have told us, winning behavior in business is seldom idealistic.  In fact, new research shows that people who cunningly combine cooperation and egoism are essentially ‘unbeatable.’  Why?  Cooperating with other people makes many things easier.  However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society.  In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors and colleagues.  Scientists from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology have developed an experiment that enables them to examine the success rate of cooperative and egoistic behavior strategies.
This experiment shoed that a strategy, referred to as “extortion” is particularly successful.  This strategy, which alternates between cooperation and egoism is difficult for the co-players to resist.  And the extortion strategy is especially effective when there is strong competitive pressure; that is if there can be only one winner.

Extortioners often come across as friendly colleagues.  They reciprocate friendliness with friendliness, making their competitors feel as though it must be a misunderstanding, if they are taken advantage of again and again.  The co-players are forced to play along to avoid losing even more.  This seemingly friendly, yet extremely tough exploitation strategy, is rewarded with additional gains. 

Calculations drawn up by scientists show that mutual support can easily turn into extortion.  Theorists use the so-called prisoners’ dilemma to explore this issue of social interaction among human beings.  In this game, two participants will benefit more if they cooperate, than they will if both of them behaved egoistically.  However, if one player is egoistic while the other one cooperates, the egoistic player will receive the largest prize, while the cooperating player goes away empty-handed.

This means that cooperating is only worthwhile, if you keep encountering the same player, and are thus able to “punish” previous egoism and reward cooperative behavior.  For a long time, scientists have considered this type of “tit for tat” strategy to be the most effective behavioral strategy and a recipe for...

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