Social contact patterns can buffer costs of forgetting in the evolution of cooperation

Jeffrey R. Stevens, Jan K. Woike, Lael J. Schooler, Stefan Lindner, Thorsten Pachur

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Analyses of the evolution of cooperation often rely on two simplifying assumptions: (i) individuals interact equally frequently with all social network members and (ii) they accurately remember each partner’s past cooperation or defection. Here, we examine how more realistic, skewed patterns of contact— in which individuals interact primarily with only a subset of their network’s members—influence cooperation. In addition, we test whether skewed contact patterns can counteract the decrease in cooperation caused by memory errors (i.e. forgetting). Finally, we compare two types of memory error that vary in whether forgotten interactions are replaced with random actions or with actions from previous encounters. We use evolutionary simulations of repeated prisoner’s dilemma games that vary agents’ contact patterns, forgetting rates and types of memory error. We find that highly skewed contact patterns foster cooperation and also buffer the detrimental effects of forgetting. The type of memory error used also influences cooperation rates. Our findings reveal previously neglected but important roles of contact pattern, type of memory error and the interaction of contact pattern and memory on cooperation. Although cognitive limitations may constrain the evolution of cooperation, social contact patterns can counteract some of these constraints.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20180407
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1880
StatePublished - Jun 13 2018


  • Cooperation
  • Forgetting
  • Memory
  • Reciprocity
  • Social contact
  • Social network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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