Decisions and disease: a mechanism for the evolution of cooperation

Carl-Joar Karlsson, Julie Rowlett
Scientific Reports 2020 August 4, 10 (1): 13113
In numerous contexts, individuals may decide whether they take actions to mitigate the spread of disease, or not. Mitigating the spread of disease requires an individual to change their routine behaviours to benefit others, resulting in a 'disease dilemma' similar to the seminal prisoner's dilemma. In the classical prisoner's dilemma, evolutionary game dynamics predict that all individuals evolve to 'defect.' We have discovered that when the rate of cooperation within a population is directly linked to the rate of spread of the disease, cooperation evolves under certain conditions. For diseases which do not confer immunity to recovered individuals, if the time scale at which individuals receive accurate information regarding the disease is sufficiently rapid compared to the time scale at which the disease spreads, then cooperation emerges. Moreover, in the limit as mitigation measures become increasingly effective, the disease can be controlled; the number of infections tends to zero. It has been suggested that disease spreading models may also describe social and group dynamics, indicating that this mechanism for the evolution of cooperation may also apply in those contexts.

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