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TIT FOR TAT in sticklebacks and the evolution of cooperation


The problems of achieving mutual cooperation can be formalized in a game called the Prisoner's Dilemma in which selfish defection is always more rewarding than cooperation1. If the two protagonists have a certain minimum probability of meeting again a strategy called TIT FOR TAT is very successful2. In TIT FOR TAT the player cooperates on the first move and thereafter does whatever the opponent did on the previous move. I have studied the behaviour of fish when confronting a potential predator, because conflicts can arise within pairs of fish in these circumstances which I argue resemble a series of games of Prisoner's Dilemma. Using a system of mirrors, single three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) approaching a live predator were provided with either a simulated cooperating companion or a simulated defecting one. In both cases the test fish behaved according to TIT FOR TAT supporting the hypothesis that cooperation can evolve among egoists.

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Milinski, M. TIT FOR TAT in sticklebacks and the evolution of cooperation. Nature 325, 433–435 (1987).

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