Real Research, Real Simple

Be nice – it’s the best strategy


Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be nice.  In fact, for years, economists and mathematicians would have agreed.  So why does generosity exist in nature?  Turns out, it really is the best strategy.

If you’re familiar with Game Theory, then you’ve probably heard of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.  The hypothetical situation was created by researchers to determine which leads to the biggest payoff – cooperation or selfishness.  Clearly, there are real-life applications.  When two players cooperate, they both win.  When both are selfish, they gain less.  When opposites are matched together, the selfish player wins the most.  The key question for researchers?  If this is true, then why does generosity persist in society?

Recently, biologists at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered a fundamental flaw in the traditional win/lose model – it only applied to one-on-one, short-term situations, not an evolving population.  Apparently, selfishness and extortion (when you force an opponent to receive a lower score) are only for the short-sighted.  There is no way to win in a society without being generous and showing forgiveness.  The researchers used a lot of complicated math to unequivocally back this up.  Scientists suspect that this could account for the findings of evolutionary psychologists which have shown that generosity elicits happiness in people.  What do you think?  Is it worth it to play nice?

About the author

Melissa Carmen Cheung, PhD

Passionate about sharing science with the public in a fun and accessible way, Melissa is a Medical Communications professional who earned her Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Toronto. Though her research focused on the design of novel cancer therapeutics, Melissa is intrigued by all facets of science. Her goal in life is to captivate people with the same excitement she feels for science.