Natural Rationality | decision-making in the economy of nature


The dynamics of Machiavellian intelligence

Sergey Gavrilets, and Aaron Vose
The dynamics of Machiavellian intelligence
PNAS 103: 16823-16828; published online before print as 10.1073/pnas.0601428103

The "Machiavellian intelligence" hypothesis (or the "social brain" hypothesis) posits that large brains and distinctive cognitive abilities of humans have evolved via intense social competition in which social competitors developed increasingly sophisticated "Machiavellian" strategies as a means to achieve higher social and reproductive success. Here we build a mathematical model aiming to explore this hypothesis. In the model, genes control brains which invent and learn strategies (memes) which are used by males to gain advantage in competition for mates. We show that the dynamics of intelligence has three distinct phases. During the dormant phase only newly invented memes are present in the population. During the cognitive explosion phase the population's meme count and the learning ability, cerebral capacity (controlling the number of different memes that the brain can learn and use), and Machiavellian fitness of individuals increase in a runaway fashion. During the saturation phase natural selection resulting from the costs of having large brains checks further increases in cognitive abilities. Overall, our results suggest that the mechanisms underlying the "Machiavellian intelligence" hypothesis can indeed result in the evolution of significant cognitive abilities on the time scale of 10 to 20 thousand generations. We show that cerebral capacity evolves faster and to a larger degree than learning ability. Our model suggests that there may be a tendency toward a reduction in cognitive abilities (driven by the costs of having a large brain) as the reproductive advantage of having a large brain decreases and the exposure to memes increases in modern societies.