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Small group size promotes more egalitarian societies as modeled by the hawk-dove game


The social organization of groups varies greatly across primate species, ranging from egalitarian to despotic. Moreover, the typical or average size of groups varies greatly across primate species. Yet we know little about how group size affects social organization across primate species. Here we used the hawk-dove game (HDG) to model the evolution of social organization as a function of maximum group size and used the evolved frequency of hawks as a measure of egalitarian/despotism in societies. That is, the lower the frequency of hawks, the more egalitarian a society is, and the higher the frequency of hawks, the more despotic it is. To do this, we built an agent-based model in which agents live in groups and play the HDG with fellow group members to obtain resources to reproduce offspring. Offspring inherit the strategy of their parent (hawk or dove) with a low mutation rate. When groups reach a specified maximum size, they are randomly divided into two groups. We show that the evolved frequency of hawks is dramatically lower for relatively small maximum group sizes than predicted analytically for the HDG. We discuss the relevance of group size for understanding and modeling primate social systems, including the transition from hunter-gather societies to agricultural societies of the Neolithic era. We conclude that group size should be included in our theoretical understanding of the organization of primate social systems.

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