Fortune favours the brave – but it does not favour the selfish, according to a new study out today.

The old paradigm of survival of the fittest may not necessarily be true, according to a recent study by scientists at Michigan State University (MSU).

The paper was published in the current issue of Nature Communications and focuses on game theory, which is used in biology, economics, political science and other disciplines.

Adami and Hintze had their doubts about whether following a zero determinant strategy (ZD) would essentially eliminate cooperation and create a world full of selfish people. ZD strategies are one’s which coerce the opponent into a less favourable position. It is one which gives selfish players a guaranteed way to beat cooperative players.

Using high-powered computing, the scientists to create hundreds of games and found that selfish strategies led to failure.

While ZD strategies offer advantages when they’re used against non-ZD opponents, they don’t work well against other ZD opponents.

Lead author Christoph Adami, MSU professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, said: “We found evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean. “For a short time and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead. But selfishness isn’t evolutionarily sustainable.”

The authors concluded that ZD strategies only worked if players knew who their opponents were and adapted their strategies accordingly. A ZD player would play one way against another ZD player and a different way against a cooperative player.

Hintze: “The only way ZD strategists could survive would be if they could recognize their opponents. And even if ZD strategists kept winning so that only ZD strategists were left, in the long run they would have to evolve away from being ZD and become more cooperative. So they wouldn’t be ZD strategists anymore.”

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