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Criminal defectors lead to the emergence of cooperation in an experimental, adversarial game.


While the evolution of cooperation has been widely studied, little attention has been devoted to adversarial settings wherein one actor can directly harm another. Recent theoretical work addresses this issue, introducing an adversarial game in which the emergence of cooperation is heavily reliant on the presence of "Informants," actors who defect at first-order by harming others, but who cooperate at second-order by punishing other defectors. We experimentally study this adversarial environment in the laboratory with human subjects to test whether Informants are indeed critical for the emergence of cooperation. We find in these experiments that, even more so than predicted by theory, Informants are crucial for the emergence and sustenance of a high cooperation state. A key lesson is that successfully reaching and maintaining a low defection society may require the cultivation of criminals who will also aid in the punishment of others.

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