The complexity of human cooperation under indirect reciprocity

Fernando P. Santos, Jorge M. Pacheco and Francisco C. Santos

Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc.

Indirect reciprocity (IR) is a key mechanism to understand cooperation among unrelated individuals. It involves reputations and complex information processing, arising from social interactions. By helping someone, individuals may improve their reputation, which may be shared in a population and change the predisposition of others to reciprocate in the future. The reputation of individuals depends, in turn, on social norms that define a good or bad action, offering a computational and mathematical appealing way of studying the evolution of moral systems. Over the years, theoretical and empirical research has unveiled many features of cooperation under IR, exploring norms with varying degrees of complexity and information requirements. Recent results suggest that costly reputation spread, interaction observability and empathy are determinants of cooperation under IR. Importantly, such characteristics probably impact the level of complexity and information requirements for IR to sustain cooperation. In this review, we present and discuss those recent results. We provide a synthesis of theoretical models and discuss previous conclusions through the lens of evolutionary game theory and cognitive complexity. We highlight open questions and suggest future research in this domain.

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