Screaming sports coaches and cutthroat tycoons have it wrong: Nice guys do finish first, a new study suggests.
The Harvard University study involved 100 Boston-area college students playing the same game over and over — a punishment-heavy version of the classic one-on-one brinksmanship game of prisoner’s dilemma. The research appears in the journal Nature.
Common game theory has held that punishment makes two equals co-operate. But when people compete in repeated games, punishment fails to deliver, said study author Martin Nowak. He is director of the evolutionary dynamics lab at Harvard where the study was conducted.
“On the individual level, we find that those who use punishments are the losers,” Nowak said his experiments found. Those who escalate the conflict very often wound up doomed.
“It’s a very positive message,” said study co-author David Rand, a Harvard biology graduate student researcher. “In general, the thing that is most, sort of, rational and best for your own self-interest is to be nice.”
The study looked at games between equals. Punishment does seem to have a place in games when one player is dominant and needs to enforce submission, Nowak said.
In Nowak’s experiment, the students played more than 8,000 games of prisoner’s dilemma, using dimes to reward and punish.
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