Empathy for the sake of Empathy: Examining the One-Shot Prisoner's Dilemma Game



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The prisoner’s dilemma is a widely studied game within game theory. It focuses on how we can elicit cooperation when there is a clear incentive to defect. While this concept has been applied to a variety of situations, the studies within game theory, and specifically about the prisoner’s dilemma, lack research on true altruists (i.e., individuals who cooperate because they are good people and not because there is an incentive to do so). The focus of this paper is the distinction between empathetic people and narcissistic people and presents a model that shows how true altruists can remain in society despite narcissists constantly taking advantage of them. The model considers a oneshot Bayesian prisoner’s dilemma game. The one-shot nature of the game is used to simulate a lack of reciprocity and, therefore, represents individuals that cooperate because of who they are as opposed to other incentives. The Bayesian model allows for the distinction between empathetic and narcissistic individuals. The results from this model suggest that empathetic individuals can remain in society as long as there are enough empathetic individuals (µ) and enough of the “warm feeling” (ε) that these individuals receive from being altruistic and cooperating. Further work on this model can include endogenizing both ε and µ as well as studying the relationship within actual populations.



Game Theory