Cooperation or co-operation is the process of working or acting together. In its simplest form it involves things working in harmony, side by side, while in its more complicated forms, it can involve something as complex as the inner workings of a human being or even the social patterns of a nation. It is the alternative to working separately in competition. Cooperation can also be accomplished by computers, which can handle shared resources simultaneously, while sharing processor time.


Cooperative systems

Cooperation is the process by which the components of a system work together to achieve the global properties. In other words, individual components that appear to be “selfish” and independent work together to create a highly complex, greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts system. Examples can be found all around us. The components in a cell work together to keep it living. Cells work together and communicate to produce multicellular organisms. Organisms form food chains and ecosystems. People form families, tribes, cities and nations. Atoms cooperate in a simple way, by combining to make up molecules. Understanding the mechanisms that create cooperating agents in a system is one of the most important and least well understood phenomena in nature, though there has not been a lack of effort.

Individual action on behalf of a larger system may be coerced (forced), voluntary (freely chosen), or even unintentional, and consequently individuals and groups might act in concert even though they have almost nothing in common as regards interests or goals. Examples of that can be found in market trade, military wars, families, workplaces, schools and prisons, and more generally any institution or organization of which individuals are part (out of own choice, by law, or forced).

The Prisoner's Dilemma

Even if all members of a group would benefit if all cooperate, individual self-interest may not favor cooperation. The prisoner's dilemma codifies this problem and has been the subject of much research, both theoretical and experimental. Results from experimental economics show that humans often act more cooperatively than strict self-interest would seem to dictate. While economic experiments require subjects to make relatively abstract decisions for small stakes, evidence from natural experiments for high stakes support the claim that humans act more cooperatively than strict self-interest would dictate.[1]

One reason may be that if the prisoner's dilemma situation is repeated (the iterated prisoner's dilemma), it allows non-cooperation to be punished more, and cooperation to be rewarded more, than the single-shot version of the problem would suggest. It has been suggested that this is one reason for the evolution of complex emotions in higher life forms,[2][3] who, at least as infants, and usually thereafter, cannot survive without cooperating – although with maturation they gain much more choice about the kinds of cooperation they wish to have.

There are four main conditions that tend to be necessary for cooperative behaviour to develop between two individuals[according to whom?]:

  • An overlap in desires
  • A chance of future encounters with the same individual
  • Memory of past encounters with that individual
  • A value associated with future outcomes

Cooperation in Humans

Roots of human cooperation may be found in empathy. For example, when several infants are in a room, and one of them starts crying, others start crying too.

Language allows humans to cooperate on a very large scale. Certain studies have shown that fairness affects human cooperation; individuals are willing to punish at their own cost (altruistic punishment) if they believe that they are being treated unfair.[4][5] Sanfey, et al. conducted an experiment where 19 individuals were scanned using MRI while playing an Ultimatum Game in the role of the responder.[6] They were receiving offers from other human partners and from a computer partner. Remarkably, responders refused unfair offers from human partners at a significantly higher rate than those by a computer partner. The experiment also showed that altruistic punishment is associated with negative emotions that are being generated in unfair situations by the anterior insula of the brain.[7]

It has been observed that image scoring promotes cooperative behavior in situations where direct reciprocity is unlikely.[8] In situations where reputation and status are involved, humans tend to cooperate more.

Cooperation in Animals

Animals show a significant level of cooperation. Elephants, wolves, bees, wasps, etc. are highly cooperative. Cooperation in certain species (e.g. ants) is regulated by chemicals. Some insects are (arguably) more cooperative than humans, for example wasps. That could be explained by high relatedness between members of the hive. One of the first examples of Tit for tat cooperation strategy in animals was observed in the behavior of sticklebacks by Manfred Milinski.[9] When sticklebacks see that their partner is cooperating, they reciprocate.

While altruistic punishment is characteristic for humans, certain experiments show that animals also punish (at no cost) in unfair situations. In repeated interactions chimpanzees do not cooperate with one another if the product of cooperation is not shared.[citation needed]

Image scoring promotes cooperation in cleaner fish.[10] Defecting is more rare when the cleaner fish know that they are being watched by a bystander, a client fish who collects information in order to decide whose services to accept. Cleaner fish tend to cooperate more conscientiously with smaller client fish in order to gain reputation and get access to a bigger fish.

See also


  1. ^ van den Assem, van Dolder, and Thaler (April 2010). Split or Steal? Cooperative Behavior when the Stakes are Large. SSRN 1592456. 
  2. ^ Olsen, Harrington, and Siegelmann (2010). Conspecific Emotional Cooperation Biases Population Dynamics: A Cellular Automata Approach. 
  3. ^ Harrington, Olsen, and Siegelmann (2011). Communicated Somatic Markers Benefit the Individual and the Species. 
  4. ^ Fehr, Ernst. "Altruistic punishment in humans". Macmillan Magazines Ltd. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  5. ^ Sanfey, et al., Alan G.. "The Neural Basis of Economic Decision-Making in the Ultimatum Game". Science. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  6. ^ Sanfey, et al., Alan G.. "The Neural Basis of Economic Decision-Making in the Ultimatum Game". Science. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  7. ^ Sanfey, et al., Alan G.. "The Neural Basis of Economic Decision-Making in the Ultimatum Game". Science. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  8. ^ Wedekind, Claus. "Cooperation Through Image Scoring in Humans". Science. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 
  9. ^ Milinkski, Manfred (1987). "TIT FOR TAT in sticklebacks and the evolution of cooperation". Nature 325: 433–435. doi:10.1038/325433a0. 
  10. ^ Bshary, Redouan. "Image scoring and cooperation in a cleaner fish mutualism". Nature. Retrieved 20 July 2011. 


External links

  •, The Cooperation Project: Objectives, Accomplishments, and Proposals. Howard Rheingold's project with Institute for the Future.
  •, Cooperation platform for transport research (scientific)
  •, The Far Games, a list of games using theatrical improvisation to encourage collaboration and distributed leadership

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  • coopération — [ kɔɔperasjɔ̃ ] n. f. • av. 1435; lat. cooperatio 1 ♦ Action de participer à une œuvre commune. ⇒ collaboration. Apporter sa coopération à une entreprise. ⇒ accord, 1. aide, appui, concours, contribution. « En toute coopération on est, en quelque …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Cooperation — Coopération La coopération est une forme d organisation collective qui encadre parfois des relations économiques. Elle existe : sous des formes spontanées, souvent individuelles, en particulier avec les systèmes d échanges locaux (SEL) sous… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • cooperation — UK US (UK also co operation) /kəʊˌɒpəˈreɪʃən/ noun [U] ► the process of working with another company, organization, or country in order to achieve something: »economic/international/global cooperation cooperation with sb/sth »Marketing networks… …   Financial and business terms

  • coopération — COOPÉRATION. sub. f. Action de celui qui coopère. Dieu ne nous sauve qu avec notre coopération …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • cooperation — (n.) late 15c., from M.Fr. coopération, or directly from L.L. cooperationem (nom. cooperatio) a working together, noun of action from cooperat , pp. stem of cooperari to work together, from com with (see COM (Cf. com )) + operari to work (see …   Etymology dictionary

  • cooperation — Cooperation. s. f. Action de celuy qui coopere. Dieu ne nous sauve point sans nostre cooperation …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • cooperation — or co operation [kō äp΄ər ā′shən] n. [LL cooperatio] 1. the act of cooperating; joint effort or operation 2. the association of a number of people in an enterprise for mutual benefits or profits 3. Ecol. an interaction between organisms that is… …   English World dictionary

  • Cooperation — Co*[ o]p er*a tion, n. [L. co[ o]peratio: cf. F. coop[ e]ration.] 1. The act of co[ o]perating, or of operating together to one end; joint operation; concurrent effort or labor. [1913 Webster] Not holpen by the co[ o]peration of angels. Bacon.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • cooperation — index accommodation (backing), agreement (concurrence), aid (help), assistance, cartel, coaction …   Law dictionary

  • cooperation — [n] mutual effort aid, alliance, assistance, cahoots*, coaction, coadjuvancy, coalition, collaboration, combination, combined effort, communion, company, concert, concurrence, confederacy, confederation, confunction, conspiracy, doing business… …   New thesaurus

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