Reciprocity is often invoked to explain cooperation. Reciprocity is cognitively demanding, and both direct and indirect reciprocity require that individuals store information about the propensity of their partners to cooperate. By contrast, generalized reciprocity, wherein individuals help on the condition that they received help previously, only relies on whether an individual received help in a previous encounter. Such anonymous information makes generalized reciprocity hard to evolve in a well-mixed population, as the strategy will lose out to pure defectors. Here we analyze a model for the evolution of generalized reciprocity, incorporating assortment of encounters, to investigate the conditions under which it will evolve. We show that, in a well-mixed population, generalized reciprocity cannot evolve. However, incorporating assortment of encounters can favor the evolution of generalized reciprocity in which indiscriminate cooperation and defection are both unstable. We show that generalized reciprocity can evolve under both the prisoner's dilemma and the snowdrift game.
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Vol. 63 • No. 7