Biology Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures

Power and Corruption: How disparities in power shape the evolution of social control

Event Name/Location

Northeast Evolutionary Psychology Society Conference / New Paltz NY.

Presntation Date


Document Type

Conference Presentation




Altruism presents an evolutionary paradox, as altruistic individuals are vulnerable to exploitation by selfish individuals. One mechanism that can effectively curtail selfishness within groups is punishment. Using an evolutionary game-theoretical model, we show that punishment can effectively evolve and maintain high levels of altruism in the population. Unlike typical models on social evolution, we explicitly altered the extent to which individuals vary in their power over others such that powerful individuals can more readily both punish and escape the punishment of others. Under large power asymmetries, a powerful selfish minority maintained altruism of the masses. In contrast, increased symmetry of power amongst individuals produced a more egalitarian society held together by altruism and punishment carried out by the collective.

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