|Omar Tonsi Eldakar of Nova Southeastern University in Florida has studied the link between cooperative behavior and what he calls selfish punishment. “Why is everyone always assuming that it’s the good guys who are doing the punishing?” he asked. “Selfish individuals have more reason than anyone else to want to get rid of other cheaters.”
The idea of selfish punishment came to him as a biology graduate student who also competed in track and field. “I noticed it over and over again,” he said. “The people who were most vocal against others using performance-enhancing drugs were the ones who were using performance-enhancing drugs.”
Using game theory models, Dr. Eldakar has demonstrated that when selfish players intent on maximizing their profits regularly punish other selfish players or exclude them from the group, the net outcome is an overall decline in selfish exchanges to a reasonably stable state.
“It’s like the Mafia,” he said. “They end up reducing crime in the areas they inhabit.”