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Artificial Life

Winter 2018, Vol. 24, No. 1, Pages 10-28
(doi: 10.1162/ARTL_a_00251)
© 2018 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Institutional Approach for Modeling the Evolution of Human Societies
Article PDF (346.53 KB)
Artificial life is concerned with understanding the dynamics of human societies. A defining feature of any society is its institutions. However, defining exactly what an institution is has proven difficult, with authors often talking past each other. This article presents a dynamic model of institutions, which views them as political game forms that generate the rules of a group's economic interactions. Unlike most prior work, the framework presented here allows for the construction of explicit models of the evolution of institutional rules. It takes account of the fact that group members are likely to try to create rules that benefit themselves. Following from this, it allows us to determine the conditions under which self-interested individuals will create institutional rules that support cooperation—for example, that prevent a tragedy of the commons. The article finishes with an example of how a model of the evolution of institutional rewards and punishments for promoting cooperation can be created. It is intended that this framework will allow artificial life researchers to examine how human groups can themselves create conditions for cooperation. This will help provide a better understanding of historical human social evolution, and facilitate the resolution of pressing societal social dilemmas.