Interindividual cooperation mediated by partisanship complicates Madison’s cure for “mischiefs of faction”

Mari Kawakatsu, Yphtach Lelkes, Simon A. Levin, Corina E. Tarnita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Political theorists have long argued that enlarging the political sphere to include a greater diversity of interests would cure the ills of factions in a pluralistic society. While the scope of politics has expanded dramatically over the past 75 y, polarization is markedly worse. Motivated by this paradox, we take a bottom–up approach to explore how partisan individual-level dynamics in a diverse (multidimensional) issue space can shape collective-level factionalization via an emergent dimensionality reduction. We extend a model of cultural evolution grounded in evolutionary game theory, in which individuals accumulate benefits through pairwise interactions and imitate (or learn) the strategies of successful others. The degree of partisanship determines the likelihood of learning from individuals of the opposite party. This approach captures the coupling between individual behavior, partisan-mediated opinion dynamics, and an interaction network that changes endogenously according to the evolving interests of individuals. We find that while expanding the diversity of interests can indeed improve both individual and collective outcomes, increasingly high partisan bias promotes a reduction in issue dimensionality via party-based assortment that leads to increasing polarization. When party bias becomes extreme, it also boosts interindividual cooperation, thereby further entrenching extreme polarization and creating a tug-of-war between individual cooperation and societal cohesion. These dangers of extreme partisanship are highest when individuals’ interests and opinions are heavily shaped by peers and there is little independent exploration. Overall, our findings highlight the urgency to study polarization in a coupled, multilevel context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2102148118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 14 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Dynamic networks
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Interest diversity
  • Polarization


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