Evolutionary consequences of behavioral diversity

Alexander J Stewart, Todd L Parsons, Joshua B Plotkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Iterated games provide a framework to describe social interactions among groups of individuals. This body of work has focused primarily on individuals who face a simple binary choice, such as "cooperate" or "defect." Real individuals, however, can exhibit behavioral diversity, varying their input to a social interaction both qualitatively and quantitatively. Here we explore how access to a greater diversity of behavioral choices impacts the evolution of social dynamics in populations. We show that, in public goods games, some simple strategies that choose between only two possible actions can resist invasion by all multichoice invaders, even while engaging in relatively little punishment. More generally, access to a larger repertoire of behavioral choices results in a more "rugged" fitness landscape, with populations able to stabilize cooperation at multiple levels of investment. As a result, increased behavioral choice facilitates cooperation when returns on investments are low, but it hinders cooperation when returns on investments are high. Finally, we analyze iterated rock-paper-scissors games, the nontransitive payoff structure of which means that unilateral control is difficult to achieve. Despite this, we find that a large proportion of multichoice strategies can invade and resist invasion by single-choice strategies-so that even well-mixed populations will tend to evolve and maintain behavioral diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E7003-E7009
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2016


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