Egalitarians’ dilemma and the cognitive cost of ethnocentrism
April 14, 2013 12 Comments
Ethnocentrism (or contingent altruism) can be viewed as one of many mechanisms for enabling cooperation. The agents are augmented with a hereditary tag and the strategy space is extended from just cooperation/defection to behaviour that can be contingent on if the diad share or differ in their tag. The tags and strategy are not inherently correlated, but can develop local correlations due to system dynamics. This can expand the range of environments in which cooperation can be maintained, but an assortment-biasing mechanism is needed to fuel the initial emergence of cooperation (Kaznatcheev & Shultz, 2011). The resulting cooperation is extended only towards the in-group while the out-group continues to be treated with the cold rationality of defection.
The four possible strategies are depicted above, from top to bottom: humanitarian, ethnocentric, traitorous, and selfish. Humanitarians and selfish agents do not condition their behavior on the tag of their partner, and do not require the cognitive ability to categorize. Although this ability is simple, it can still merit a rich analysis (see: Beer, 2003) by students of minimal cognition. By associating a small fitness cost with categorization, we can study how much ethnocentric (and traitorous) agents are willing to pay for their greater cognitive abilities. This cost directly changes the default probability to reproduce (), with humanitarians and selfish agents having and ethnocentrics and traitorous agents having . During each cycle, the is further modified by the game interactions, with each cooperative action costing and providing a benefit (that varies depending on the simulation parameters) to the partner. For more detailed presentation of the simulation and default parameter, or just to follow along on your computer, I made my code publicly available on GitHub. Pardon its roughness, the brunt of it is legacy code from when I first build this model in 2009 for Kaznatcheev (2010).
The dynamics for low are about the same as the standard no cognitive cost model as can be seen from the left figure above. However, as increases there is a transition to a regime where humanitarians start to dominate the population, as in the right figure above. To study this, I ran simulations with a set ratio and increasing from 0.001 to 0.02 with steps of 0.001. You can run your own with the command
bcRun(2.5,0.001*(1:20)); some results are presented below, your results might differ slightly due to the stochastic nature of the simulation.
The most interesting feature of the phase transition, is the effect on cooperation. The world becomes more equitable; agents that treat out-groups differently from in-group (ethnocentrics) are replaced by agents that treat everyone with equal good-will and cooperation (humanitarians). However, the overall proportion of cooperative interactions decreases — it seems that humanitarians are less effective at suppressing selfish agents. This is consistent with the free-rider suppression hypothesis that Shultz et al. (2009) believed to be implausible. The result is egalitarians’ dilemma: by promoting equality among agents the world becomes less cooperative. Should one favour equality and thus individual fairness over the good of the whole population? If we expand our moral circle to eliminate out-groups will that lead to less cooperation?
In the prisoners’ dilemma, we are inclined to favor the social good over the individual. Even though it is rational for the individual to defect (securing a higher payoff for themselves than cooperating), we believe it is better for both parties to cooperate (securing a better social payoff than mutual defection). But in the egalitarians’ dilemma we are inclined to favour the individualistic strategy (fairness for each) over the social good (higher average levels of cooperative interactions). We see a similar effect in the ultimatum game: humans reject unfair offers even though that results in neither player receiving a payoff (worse for both). In some ways, we can think of the egalitarians’ dilemma as the population analogue of the ultimatum game; should humanity favor fairness over higher total cooperation?
I hinted at some of these questions in Kaznatcheev (2010) but I restrained myself to just . From this limited data, I concluded that since the phase transition happens for less than any other parameter in the model, it must be the case that agents are not willing to invest much resources into developing larger brains capable of categorical perception just to benefit from an ethnocentric strategy. Ethnocentrism and categorical perception would not have co-evolved, the basic cognitive abilities would have to be in place by some other means (or incredibly cheap) and then tag-based strategies could emerge.Here, I explored the parameter space further, by repeating the above procedure while varying the ratio by changing from 0.02 to 0.035 in increments of 0.0025 while keeping fixed at 0.01. Unsurprisingly, the transitions for proportion of ethnocentrics and humanitarians are indistinguishable, but without a proper analysis it is not clear if the transition from high to low cooperation also always coincides. For , agents are willing to invest more than before the phase transition to all humanitarians, this invalidates my earlier reasoning. Agents are unwilling to invest much resources in larger brains capable of categorical perception only for competitive environments (low ). As increases, the agents are willing to invest more in their perception to avoid giving this large benefit to the out-group. This seems consistent with explicit out-group hostility that Kaznatcheev (2010b) observed in the harmony game. However, apart from simply presenting the data, I can’t make much more sense from this figure. Do you have any interpretations? Can we learn something from the seemingly linear relationship? Does the slope (if we plot versus then it is about 0.5) tell us anything? Would you still conclude that co-evolution of tag-based cooperation and categorical perception is unlikely?
Beer, Randall D. (2003). The Dynamics of Active Categorical Perception in an Evolved Model Agent. Adaptive Behavior. 11(4): 209-243.
Kaznatcheev, Artem (2010). The cognitive cost of ethnocentrism Proceedings of the 32nd annual conference of the cognitive science society
Kaznatcheev, A. (2010b). Robustness of ethnocentrism to changes in inter-personal interactions. Complex Adaptive Systems – AAAI Fall Symposium.
Kaznatcheev, A., & Shultz, T. R. (2011). Ethnocentrism maintains cooperation, but keeping one’s children close fuels it. Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. 3174-3179.
Shultz, T. R., Hartshorn, M., & Kaznatcheev, A. (2009). Why is ethnocentrism more common than humanitarianism? Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. 2100-2105.