The Cognitive Cost of Ethnocentrism


Recent computational studies suggest that ethnocentrism, commonly thought to rely on complex social cognition, may arise through biological evolution in populations with minimal cognitive abilities. We use the methods of evolutionary game theory and computational modelling to examine the evolution of ethnocentrism. Since ethnocentric agents differentiate between in- and out-group partners, and adjust their behavior accordingly, they are more cognitively complex than humanitarian or selfish agents that always cooperate or defect, respectively. We associate a fitness cost with this complexity and test the robustness of ethnocentrism, concluding that ethnocentrism is not robust against increases in cost of cognition. Our model confirms that humanitarians are suppressed largely by ethnocentrics. Paradoxically, we observe that the proportion of cooperation is higher in worlds dominated by ethnocentrics. We conclude that suppressing free-riders, such as selfish and traitorous agents, allows ethnocentrics to maintain higher levels of cooperative interactions.

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