Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw’s®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 15 No. 1 • January-February 2012

Saving the World with (Moderate) Greed

A new paper1 proposes a mathematical model for the interaction of cooperation, social adhesion, and individual self-interest (greed). “Our results, therefore, suggest that, as long as social dilemma situations are not too severe, a main determinant of social stability and wellbeing is the greediness of individuals. Moderate greediness promotes cooperation and the stability of dense social relationships, whereas high levels of greediness destabilize the social fabric, undermining cooperation and social agglomeration.”

The authors propose that their mathematical model supports the concept that, “a model society of individuals with low levels of greediness is unable to realize social benefits. It lacks the drive to develop effective cooperation and agglomeration because non-greedy individuals become easily satisfied with whatever payoffs they obtain and thus, maintain their strategy and position.” “On the contrary, moderate greediness causes individuals’ dissatisfaction, making them explore other strategies and/or positions and experience the benefits of being cooperative in a cooperative neighborhood.” “At high levels of greediness, finally, individuals are so difficult to satisfy that they keep exploring other locations and strategies, thereby destroying cooperative clusters.”

The authors warn, however, that the beneficial influence of moderate greediness could lead to maladaptations if the projection of current growing payoffs into the future lead to an increase of greediness to levels at which social cohesion ultimately breaks down. The two of us propose that a moral for this story of adverse outcome might be: Beware of politicians offering free gifts. Those who get them (as well as those who don’t get them but hope they will) are likely to become ever more greedy, leading to the predicted disruption in social cohesion.


  1. Roca and Helbing. Emergence of social cohesion in a model society of greedy, mobile individuals. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108(28):11370-4 (2011).

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