Deep reinforcement learning models the emergent dynamics of human cooperation

Collective action demands that individuals efficiently coordinate how much, where, and when to cooperate. Laboratory experiments have extensively explored the first part of this process, demonstrating that a variety of social-cognitive mechanisms influence how much individuals choose to invest in group efforts. However, experimental research has been unable to shed light on how social cognitive mechanisms contribute to the where and when of collective action. We leverage multi-agent deep reinforcement learning to model how a social-cognitive mechanism—specifically, the intrinsic motivation to achieve a good reputation—steers group behavior toward specific spatial and temporal strategies for collective action in a social dilemma. We also collect behavioral data from groups of human participants challenged with the same dilemma. The model accurately predicts spatial and temporal patterns of group behavior: in this public goods dilemma, the intrinsic motivation for reputation catalyzes the development of a non-territorial, turn-taking strategy to coordinate collective action.

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