Adaptive Behavior in Variable Games Requires Theory of Mind

AbstractPeople seem to infer each others’ beliefs and desires when navigating social interactions, perhaps because such a “theory of mind” can guide cooperation and coordination. However, such strategic, altruistic interactions fall naturally out of evolutionary game theory without invoking any theory of mind; so why is theory of mind useful? Here we show that the interactions studied in game theory have been too impoverished to require theory of mind, but when interacting in variable games, agents with theory of mind have a clear advantage. We use simulated tournaments to demonstrate that traditional action-level strategies such as tit-for-tat fare miserably in variable games, that goal-based agents can adapt to new games instantly, and that having a theory of mind is increasingly helpful for coping with a variety of opponents as the variability in games increases. Our work suggests that variable games merit further investigation in game theory and social sciences.

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