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Friday, February 7, 2014 - 12:00pm

IRCS Conference Room

Erol Akçay
Department of Biology
University of Pennsylvania

Evolutionary perspectives on cooperation and prosociality

Cooperation is a fundamental force in organizing living matter, from single-cell organisms all the way up to human social dynamics. I will talk about recent theoretical work on that explores the different mechanisms that can promote and prevent cooperation. I will first present a modeling framework that brings together the evolutionary effects of flexible behavioral mechanisms (such as reciprocity) with those of genetic kinship. This framework reveals that both behavioral flexibility and population structure have symmetric effects on evolutionary dynamics when acting separately. However, they interact synergistically when they both operate, which can support significantly higher levels of cooperation than the sum of each mechanism by itself. I apply this model to find conditions under which other-regarding preferences can evolve through natural selection. For the second part of my talk, I will move to a line of work that tries to get at how the structure of a social interaction can change under natural selection to promote cooperation, especially in contexts where individuals are imperfectly informed. Part of this work uses a mathematical formalism from economics called mechanism design that allows obtaining results independent of game structures. I apply this methodology to the problem of reproductive skew in social breeders.