Robert Frank (1997) exercises the Prisoners Dilemma one more time to examine the question of how altruism survives, especially in one-shot interactions between people. (Prior models show the survival advantages for genes in altruistic behavior where there is some degree of kinship between creatures. They also show a survival advantage for reciprocal altruism (cooperation) when there is a repeated series of interactions between conspecifics.) Frank argues that the payoff for cheating is such that Cheaters should drive Alturists into extinction.
The Prisoners Dilemma involves 2 players against a common enemy. Remaining loyal to each other produces 4 points for each of them; betrayal from one means 6 points for the Judas and none for the one sacrificed. There is a 2 point credit to each if they both commit betrayal. Betrayal, thus, always pays something (and should eventually drive loyalty out); however, loyalty pays twice as much but only for so long as it is reciprocal. The largest possible gain occurs from selling out a loyal partner.
Frank argues that Cooperators have a coding system that allows them to spot insincerity early. (their own device for cheating, that is!) Under these conditions, betrayal becomes more predictable and Cooperators can be unconditionally loyal to other Cooperators but not to Betrayers. The proposed mechanism is that of facial expression. Certain facial muscle groups do not easily come into voluntary control, allowing facial expression to be a clue about lying or lack of commitment. (1)
He distinguishes between people who are goal-committed for economic reasons and those who are committed because "it is the right thing to do." The former are likely to cheat or betray a partner whenever the economic consequences shift whereas the latter are more likely to persevere with their loyalty, becoming more predictable, reliable, and trustworthy. We might expect doctors who spend more than the allotted time with a patient might be held in higher esteem than those who work strictly by the Chilton's rate manual and by defensive practice guidelines.
We are generally a hierarchic species and we often use alliances to manipulate our standing in the hierarchy. These maneuvers gain us access to resources and to protection from the more adept while they elevate our confidence, self esteem, and testosterone. Critters who are good at spotting a predictable friend or foe have an edge. (Thus, we have a signal in facial expression and perhaps some Psych Adaptations for reading them correctly.) The least trustworthy member of the troop is the one who's allegiance shifts with external conditions. We call them hypocrites or Judas.
1) Frank stops with defectors (Cheaters) and Cooperators (Suckers) and refers to single-exchange altruism as an unsolved mystery of sociobiology. Actually, Frank appends material to an existing solution. The chain of thought appears to run from JBS Haldane, through George Williams, to WD Hamilton, Robert Trivers, and Robert Axelrod and even Richard Dawkins. The "winning" strategy, the one that resists Cheaters and Suckers is "Generous Tit for Tat." You have two chances to cheat me, then I will cheat you. Thus, we have a behavioral scheme, part of a Psych Adaptation, that solves the problem of altruism between strangers and gives protection against cheaters. Recognizing facial expressions might be considered one more component in our "cheater detectors," a component that accompanies the cognitive systems described by Cosmides & Tooby (1992).
Cosmides L & Tooby J (1992) Cognitive adaptations for social exchange. In Barkow J, Cosmides L, & Tooby J. The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology & the generation of culture. NY: Oxford pp. 163-228.
Dawkins R (1989) The selfish gene. NY: Oxford
Frank R (1997) Nonverbal communication and the emergence of moral sentiments. In Segerstrale U & Molnar P (eds), Nonverbal communication: Where nature meets culture. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 275-292.
Williams G (1966) Adaptation and natural selection. Princeton NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
Wright R (1994) The moral animal. NY: Pantheon