3 Necessary Conditions for Human Cooperation

In The Evolution of Cooperation, written in 1984!, Robert Axelrod suggests there are three necessary conditions for people to cooperate with each other.

  1. A likelihood of meeting in the future
    If people don’t think they’ll meet again in the future, there are no repercussions for not cooperating. Threats of not cooperating are of no use. People will act selfish if there is no future to the relationship. Therefore, the knowledge of future meetings changes our behavior because we feel some level of impending accountability for our actions.
  2. An ability to identify each other
    Identity is really important for cooperation because it allows us to know who we’re dealing with. If people can’t identify who they’re dealing with, then they can’t hold that person accountable. This doesn’t mean that we have to know everything about the person, like their address and where they live, it means that they are identified as a person to the system they’re in and the people they’re dealing with.
  3. A record of past behavior
    We have learned to assume that the best way to judge future behavior is by looking at past behavior. Thus having a positive record of behavior leads to cooperation. eBay’s seller ratings are a great example of this in action. Sellers accumulate status over time as they do business on the site. Sellers who have a rich transaction history with a high percentage of positive transactions are much more likely to be successful than those with no history.

Design accordingly.

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Published: May 3rd, 2007

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