[Seminar] Conscience, Conditional Cooperation, and the Prospects of Surviving Capitalism


Thursday, December 15, 2022 - 10:30 to 12:00


Seminar Room B503, Lab 1.


Date: Thursday, December 15, 2022
Time: 10:30 – 12:00
Venue: Seminar Room B503, Lab 1.

Speaker: Prof. Shimon Edelman [Web]
               Department of Psychology
               Cornell University

Title: Conscience, Conditional Cooperation, and the Prospects of Surviving Capitalism 

A well-known problem with the evolution of cooperation, pointed out already by Darwin, is the need to make up for the individual fitness loss incurred by altruistic acts. The much-studied mechanisms of reciprocity, indirect reciprocity, and altruistic punishment all require group knowledge of individual actions. But what if no one is looking?  Conscience, an internal enforcer of cooperation, could be the answer.

In the first part of my talk, I shall describe the modeling of conscience as internalization of societal norms, construed conditionally: individuals with conscience tend to cooperate in a public goods game regardless of whether or not they are observed, as long as the majority of their community cooperates. Using two very different agent-based models, we show that conscience can be evolutionarily viable under reasonable group-selective forces. Furthermore, conscience affects the dynamics of cooperation in three ways. First, conscience polarizes communities: groups with a high prevalence of conscience gravitate either to near-full cooperation or to near-zero cooperation. Second, conscience catalyzes cooperation: its tendency to polarize magnifies differences between groups, thereby helping cooperative groups. Third, conscience stabilizes cooperation:its prevalence tends to decrease when cooperation is high and increase when it is low.

In the second part of the talk, I shall discuss the implications of these results --- and, more generally, of empirical inquiry into the mechanisms of cooperation --- for disciplines that propose or invoke theories of human nature, including cognitive and social psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, and political science.

Based on joint work with Victor Odouard and Diana Smirnova.

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