Evolutionary Game Theory
Christoph Hauert, Harvard University

Game theory provides an elegant mathematical framework to study strategic interactions between agents. Evolutionary game theory links the strategic success in game theoretical interactions to reproductive success in evolving populations. The performance of an individual, i.e. of its strategic behavior, depends on the number and types of the other individuals in the population. According to the principles of Darwinian evolution, an individual (or strategic type) that performs better than the population on average has a higher chance to increase in abundance. This general concept of evolution is not restricted to biological reproduction but can equally refer to information transmission, adaptation and learning. In human societies this is of particular importance because human language has triggered a new evolutionary mode often referred to as 'cultural evolution' where traditions, ideas and fashion rather than genes compete.

In evolutionary biology an enduring conundrum is posed by the evolution of cooperation. Cooperative entities make a sacrifice and help others at a cost to themselves. Hence cooperators should dwindle and cheaters prosper under natural selection - yet cooperation is ubiquitous in nature. In fact, the history of life could not have unfolded without the repeated cooperative integration of lower level entities into higher level units. Major evolutionary transitions such as the formation of chromosomes out of replicating DNA molecules, the transition from uni-cellular to multi-cellular organisms, the success of societies or the emergence of complex animal and human interaction patterns could not have occurred in the absence of cooperative interactions. Thus, understanding the emergence and abundance of cooperation represents a key to understanding the biological foundations of life.

Further reading:

Nowak, M. A. 2006 Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA.
Hofbauer, J. & Sigmund, K. 1998 Evolutionary Games and Population Dynamics, Cambridge University Press.

Maynard Smith, J. & Szathmary, E. 1995 The Major Transitions in Evolution, W. H. Freeman & Co, Oxford.

Hauert, C. 2006 VirtualLabs: Interactive Tutorials to Explore Evolutionary Dynamics, univie.ac.at/virtuallabs

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