Posted by: kenwbudd | May 13, 2010

Inductive Game Theory and conflict

Quantitative studies of behaviour traditionally rely on Jonathan Nash’s ‘Game theory’ and Nash’s Equilibrium, to investigate the logic and probability surrounding conflict. Game theory seeks to identify normative strategies that maximise payoffs for individuals in the face of uncertainty.

Although Game theory has been very useful for determining which of a predefined set of strategies will best produce stability, given certain assumptions, its has not proven to be very useful for determining what the natural strategy set is, or which strategies individuals are using out of equilibrium.

Multiple Players
Game theoretic models are also not practical for studying strategies when interactions involve multiple players interacting simultaneously. This is the case in many complex animal and human systems.

Inductive Game Theory
Santa Fe Institute Omidyar Postdoctoral Fellow Simon DeDeo and Institute faculty members Jessica Flack and David Krakauer believe they have developed a new method, which they call ‘Inductive Game Theory.’

They have applied this new method to a time series of fights, gathered from detailed observations of an animal society model system. “With these approaches, we can better identify those strategies likely to generate periods of intense conflict,” DeDeo says.

Conflict Triggers
“Fights are not explained by ‘rogue actors,’ or single aggressive individuals, but by complex interactions among groups of three or higher, and the decision to fight is very much dependent on historical events i.e. the memory of what happened in previous conflicts,” says Krakauer. (As we all know our perception of events are not always accurate. Memories and historical recollection, can be distorted and otherwise influenced, internally and externally.)

Interaction of Players
“These results suggest that an individual agency has been over-emphasised in social evolution,” says Flack. “We need to re-examine the idea that a single individual or nation can directly cause turbulent periods in history, and consider the possibility that what predicts long periods of conflict is how we respond to the actions and reactions of both our friends and our possible enemies in their conflicts.”

Jessica Flack believes, “This new empirically-grounded approach to conflict is a crucial step towards designing better methods for prediction, management and control.” I hope she is right in this assumption and that it does make the world a safer place.

Aggressive acts
Clearly, a single entity can invoke an action that is intended to provoke an aggressive reaction (Pearl Harbour) but the decision for conflict is an option not an inevitable response, and is based on a large number of factors.

Pre-emptive aggression
Pre-emptive strikes (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), are intolerable unless you convince your ‘allies’ that it’s not, because it’s for the ‘greater good’, but these past events invoke different reactions within us, simply because they are now historical events and they can sit uncomfortably in our memories.

This in itself may make it difficult to predict our reaction to future conflicts, dependant on whether we have a) read about similar events in the history books or b) experienced them directly or indirectly through our friends and partners.

The Santa Fe Institute
The Santa Fe Institute ( is a transdisciplinary research community that expands the boundaries of scientific understanding. Its aim is to discover, comprehend, and communicate the common fundamental principles in complex physical, computational, biological, and social systems that underlie many of the most profound problems facing science and society today.



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