Making an Example: Signalling Threat in the Evolution of Cooperation

Theodor Cimpeanu, The Anh Han

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Social punishment has been suggested as a key approach to ensuring high levels of cooperation and norm compliance in one-shot (i.e. non-repeated) interactions, however it does not usually emerge if it is not also cost-efficient. Signalling retribution hearkens back to medieval sovereignty, insofar as the very word for gallows in French stems from the Latin word for power and serves as a grim symbol of the ruthlessness of high justice. Here, we introduce the mechanism of signalling an act of punishment and a special type of defector emerges, one who can recognise this signal and avoid punishment by way of fear. We describe the analytical conditions under which threat signalling can maintain high levels of cooperation. Moreover, we perform extensive agent-based simulations so as to confirm and expand our understanding of the external factors that influence the success of social punishment. We show that our suggested mechanism catalyses cooperation, even when signalling is costly or when punishment would be impractical. We observe the preventive nature of advertising retributive acts and we contend that the resulting social prosperity is a desirable outcome in the contexts of AI and multi-agent systems. To conclude, we argue that fear acts as an effective stimulus to pro-social behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2020 IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation, CEC 2020 - Conference Proceedings
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
ISBN (Electronic)9781728169293
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
Event2020 IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation - Virtual, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 19 Jul 202024 Jul 2020

Publication series

Name2020 IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation, CEC 2020 - Conference Proceedings


Conference2020 IEEE Congress on Evolutionary Computation
Abbreviated titleCEC 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityVirtual, Glasgow


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