Discounting and Reciprocity in an Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma

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Science  13 Dec 2002:
Vol. 298, Issue 5601, pp. 2216-2218
DOI: 10.1126/science.1078498

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The Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma (IPD) is a central paradigm in the study of animal cooperation. According to the IPD framework, repeated play (repetition) and reciprocity combine to maintain a cooperative equilibrium. However, experimental studies with animals suggest that cooperative behavior in IPDs is unstable, and some have suggested that strong preferences for immediate benefits (that is, temporal discounting) might explain the fragility of cooperative equilibria. We studied the effects of discounting and strategic reciprocity on cooperation in captive blue jays. Our results demonstrate an interaction between discounting and reciprocity. Blue jays show high stable levels of cooperation in treatments with reduced discounting when their opponent reciprocates, but their levels of cooperation decline in all other treatment combinations. This suggests that stable cooperation requires both reduced discounting and reciprocity, and it offers an explanation of earlier failures to find cooperation in controlled payoff games.

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