Evolutionary escape from the prisoner's dilemma

Lee Worden, Simon A. Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


The classic prisoner's dilemma model of game theory is modified by introducing occasional variations on the options available to players. Mutation and selection of game options reliably change the game matrix, gradually, from a prisoner's dilemma game into a byproduct mutualism one, in which cooperation is stable, and "temptation to defect" is replaced by temptation to cooperate. This result suggests that when there are many different potential ways of interacting, exploring those possibilities may make escape from prisoner's dilemmas a common outcome in the world. A consequence is that persistent prisoner's dilemma structures may be less common than one might otherwise expect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)411-422
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 7 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


  • Adaptive dynamics
  • Agent-based models
  • Agent-based simulation
  • Byproduct cooperation
  • Byproduct mutualism
  • Complex systems
  • Cultural evolution
  • Division of labor game
  • Evolution of cooperation
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Prisoner's dilemma
  • Tragedy of the commons


Dive into the research topics of 'Evolutionary escape from the prisoner's dilemma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this