Illuminating interactions between decision-making and the environment

Excerpt from PennToday's article written by Katherine Baillie, posted 2/19/2020

In a heavily polluted environment, does it make more sense for a company to keep polluting or start cleaning up its act? If it chooses to employ cleaner technologies and the environment becomes healthier, does the same calculus apply? 

These feedbacks between decision strategy and the environment come up in fields as diverse as fisheries, economics, and human social interactions. Game theorists have explored these so-called feedbacks using individual models to apply to particular scenarios. But in a new publication in Nature Communications, researchers from Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences present a unifying model that explains these diverse interactions and underscores the similarity of their features. 

“What we do in our paper is try to explicitly incorporate the way in which evolutionary game dynamics can be affected by the environment and can change the environment,” says Andrew Tilman, first author on the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology. “So, you get this feedback between strategies that are used in the game and environmental change.”

Tilman coauthored the work with advisers Erol Akçay and Joshua Plotkin, faculty members whose work specializes in theoretical and computational approaches to biological questions.

fishers. Image: Erol Akçay