Cooperation, Reciprocity, Reputations and Survival

Basic human traits are some things we cannot explain but we attempt to analyze. Why is cooperation important and do we do it subconsciously or because we have vested interests? Using the concept of ‘game theory’, there are the classic models of the ‘Prisoners’ Dilemma’ and the ‘Chicken Game’, which poses choices and decisions, and how we make them.

In families, businesses, groups and communities, one cooperates to assist each other as there is a ‘connection’ and what happens affects and may benefit the individual and the collective, thus one has a vested self-interest in cooperating. One may see this as a survival tactic, to save the family fortune or reputation, save a floundering business, expand a group, enhance community spirit or to merely be neighborly by doing the right thing! Whatever the reason selfishness or altruism, cooperation occurs at varying degrees.

At times the reaction is subconscious and second nature to help one’s fellow-man, friend, relative, colleague, however the juxtaposition of ‘why should I help–what’s in it for me?’ does surface. Political science analysts see this reciprocity as beneficial using the notion of ‘tit for tat’ where one may owe favors, helping and expecting help in return when needed, often seen in politics and business. (The classic game of what you do to me, I will do back to you)

Simple scenarios like helping someone when they fall over is human nature as you would hope and expect someone to help you if it happened to you. Still some may think someone else will help instead as they have no benefit from helping. Unfortunately nowadays, some people put their job description above that of human nature, stating they cannot help due to liabilities and the risk of being sued. It raises the question that if we have stop to think of ourselves before helping a fellow human in need then we have to question whether humanity is evolving or indeed become stagnant back to the prehistoric ages?

However, how does one choose to help and can the other party be trusted to pay back the favor if need be? The old adage, a reputation cannot be bought and a reputation can be lost or ruined over night with a poor decision or lie has much credence. Those with good reputations are likely to receive cooperation where as those with less than favorable reputations are less likely to receive any cooperation or to be trusted. Hence even if one cooperates one must look at the underlying reasons as to the motives; reciprocity is assumed and is the unspoken rule.

The basic principle of the Prisoners Dilemma is that to ‘defect’ is the best possible and selfish outcome for the individual, but leads us to the concept of the Nash equilibrium predicting probability of cooperation given differing options–which would be to cooperate. Is it basic human nature to be selfish and opt for the best personal outcome or to cooperate and want the best for all parties concerned?

Risk factors exist for all scenarios; nothing is risk free in life. Cooperation benefits everyone; it builds reputations, it creates communities, expands businesses and companies, cements family bonds and develops international relationships (such as the UK and USA). The only catch is that some people or bodies have ulterior motives and once cooperation has been achieved in their favor they are reluctant to reciprocate in any further interactions.

Professor Bas, you see I did not sleep through all your classes in CGIS, though my math has improved I would still have preferred a calculator for my exams and the nightmares over finding Nash equilibria have finally stopped!

Copyright © 2013 S.T.Alvyn All Rights Reserved

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