Last year, a paper describing the concept of “zero deterrent”, implied that selfish animals were more likely to find success than their non-selfish peers, sent shockwaves around the evolutionary biology landscape. Today, a counter-study, produced by two Michigan State evolutionary biologists, and published in the newest issue of Nature Communication states that while selfish behavior may benefit an animal short term, such selfishness will harm it over a longer period of time.
Christoph Adami, who published the study, summed things up quite simply. He said, “Evolution will punish you if you’re selfish and mean.” The new selfishness study involves game theory, which is a complex study of individual VS group success. The basic question that now has a new answer is what is better: the advantages of being selfish, or the advantages of being unselfish and receiving more communal support as a result? The answer to this question could dictate what methods have led to animal, and human survival.
The study dictates that selfish creatures do well when partnered with other non-selfish mates. However, when there are a number of selfish creatures, the entire group, and the creatures themselves do poorly. As such, the data suggests that while individual selfish creatures may benefit from their selfishness, selfishness as a whole is a poor evolutionary strategy.
To get this result, the two researchers ran thousands of evolutionary simulations involving selfish and non-selfish groups. The selfish groups performed better than the non-selfish groups for a short while, but over a course of generations, the non-selfish groups greatly outlasted the selfish ones.
Don’t be selfish, friends. The evolution of our species may depend on it!