Friendship, cliquishness, and the emergence of cooperation

Daniel J. Hruschka, Joseph Henrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


The evolution of cooperation is a central problem in biology and the social sciences. While theoretical work using the iterated prisoner's dilemma (IPD) has shown that cooperation among non-kin can be sustained among reciprocal strategies (i.e. tit-for-tat), these results are sensitive to errors in strategy execution, cyclical invasions by free riders, and the specific ecology of strategies. Moreover, the IPD assumes that a strategy's probability of playing the PD game with other individuals is independent of the decisions made by others. Here, we remove the assumption of independent pairing by studying a more plausible cooperative dilemma in which players can preferentially interact with a limited set of known partners and also deploy longer-term accounting strategies that can counteract the effects of random errors. We show that cooperative strategies readily emerge and persist in a range of noisy environments, with successful cooperative strategies (henceforth, cliquers) maintaining medium-term memories for partners and low thresholds for acceptable cooperation (i.e. forgiveness). The success of these strategies relies on their cliquishness - a propensity to defect with strangers if they already have an adequate number of partners. Notably, this combination of medium-term accounting, forgiveness, and cliquishness fits with empirical studies of friendship and other long-term relationships among humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 7 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruism
  • Cooperation
  • Friendship
  • Iterated prisoner's dilemma
  • Partner choice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


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