Ultimatum game

Based on the results of ethological observations and experiments and also based on introspection, it can be said that, when deciding, an individual is usually not motivated by how much real profit or real loss the behavior brings and very often even not by how much profit or loss it gets in units of pleasure and distress. In many situations, individuals may behave quite irrationally from the both points of view. How the individual will behave in a particular situation is, in the end, decided not by a rational calculation but an irrational emotion (Fehr & Gachter 2002). The consequence of this is that the behavior of real organisms may sometimes differ significantly from the behavior that could be expected according to game theory.
An example that simply illustrates this situation is a psychological experiment called the “ultimatum game”. There are two players and the following rules: Player A gets $ 100 from the experimenter. He can give a voluntary amount of this sum to player B. If player B finds the sum too small, he can refuse it; in that case both players will get nothing. The game only has one round, i.e. the players cannot expect a reward or payback for their behavior in future rounds. According to game theory, and rational thought as well, the most appropriate strategy for player A is to offer player B an arbitrarily small sum, e.g. $ 1 and, from player B’s viewpoint, to accept this arbitrarily small sum with gnashing teeth. The problem is the teeth gnashing. Because of the negative emotions caused by the unfair sharing of the sum, player B is very likely to refuse the money. He will punish the opponent, although he will fail to profit as well – he will get nothing instead of at least a small sum of money. But emotionally, he will feel much better – he will bask in the feeling that his unfair currish opponent, the goddamn scrooge, also got nothing {11691}. Because player A can almost certainly expect such behavior from player B, he is probably going to split the amount much more fairly, often 1:1 (Fig. XVI.7) {10828}. In this case, player A gets a bonus – a pleasant feeling that he again showed the world how righteous he is; for some persons,  of course, a similar bonus can be a feeling that he has just out-maneuvered his opponent by offering him such a small sum and he finally accepted it (while gnashing his teeth so nicely).
            At first glance, it may seem that the existence of emotions that force us to behave irrationally is disadvantageous in many situations for organisms, and the question arises as to how this mechanism could arise in evolution by natural selection. The truth is that individuals who follow their emotions rather than rational calculus can be much more successful in the long term. From the long-term viewpoint, evolution was able to optimize the situations and the intensity with which external stimuli will launch our individual emotions. Because the optimization occurred through the objective mechanism of natural selection, i.e. only what really increased the biological fitness of its bearer could become fixed in the population, evolution included, in the final calculation, even those expenses and profits that the individual could not or was not able to include in its rational calculation. For example, if we behave altruistically in the ultimatum game with a total stranger, we can not guess in advance how often someone else will learn about our “noble and selfless“ behavior, how much it will improve our reputation and how the good reputation could influence our fitness in the future  (Fig. XVI.8). In contrast, evolution has had enough time to try this out in practice and, according to the results of the individual “experiments”, it could set the appropriate launching levels for emotions  that would direct individual behavior in similar situations in the future.
            Most populations contain enough genetically conditioned variability in emotions and, moreover, particular traits can be transferred culturally. Consequently, mechanisms directing emotional behavior can, with the help of the Baldwin effect and genetic assimilation, develop relatively rapidly and adapt to changes in the environment. Nonetheless, the evolution of particular controlling mechanisms and thus the evolution of individual behavior in the population may, in some cases, fall behind changes in the environment the organisms currently live in. This mainly concerns the evolution of humans, whose environment, and namely its most important part from the fitness point of view – social environment – develops at the speed of lightning compared to the rate of biological evolution.  It is therefore possible that our emotional world is optimized for the environment our species lived in for the past tens or hundreds of thousands of years and did not manage to adapt, for most of us, to the changes that came with overcrowding and life in numerous and anonymous groups. This means some behavioral patterns that are forced on us by our emotions can actually be disadvantageous for our fitness; they can be truly altruistic, i.e. they may objectively lower the inclusive fitness of the carrier to the profit of non-related individuals in the population.
            The conclusions of evolutionary psychology sketched in this chapter may seem cynical. In any case, it is necessary to think about some of the less visible consequences of the phenomena described in the previous paragraph. They indicate that, amongst other things, our inner world is to a considerable degree autonomous, independent of the outer world we live in. What fills us with pleasant feelings does not necessarily contribute to increasing our fitness, and what is unpleasant does not necessarily harm us. It may seem degrading that this can only be a consequence of the inability of evolution to adapt the speed of evolution of our emotions to the speed of development of our environment. Objectively, it is more important that evolutionary psychology shows us that we are not the prisoners or hostages of our biological nature, but free individuals that are independently responsible for their decisions and behavior. Which behavior is right or wrong, the ethical question must be decided by ourselves; we cannot plead that behavior that does us good emotionally is objectively correct (increases the average fitness of members of our species). As a kind of compensation for increased efforts and personal responsibility we can, in return, get a warm feeling that we are not living in a cynical world where every altruistic deed is only altruistic for effect, but that we and our neighbors can behave (and most likely often do behave) really selflessly.

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The classical Darwinian theory of evolution can explain the evolution of adaptive traits only in asexual organisms. The frozen plasticity theory is much more general: It can also explain the origin and evolution of adaptive traits in both asexual and sexual organisms Read more