Taking turns isn't just a nice idea. It may be as much a part of the theory of evolution as survival of the fittest – at least that's the conclusion that British researchers reached after running a genetic simulation through thousands of generations of evolutionary change. Turn-taking behavior seem to come naturally to humans, whether it's standing in line or deciding who's going to do the dishes tonight. But such behavior has been observed in a wide variety of other species as well: Chimps take turns grooming each other, for example, and penguins take turns minding their eggs.
“It is far from obvious how turn-taking evolved without language or insight in animals shaped by natural selection to pursue their individual self-interests,” University of Leicester psychologist Andrew Colman said last week in a news release about the research. Colman and a university colleague of his, Lindsay Browning, looked into the evolution of politeness for a paper published in the September issue of the journal Evolutionary Ecology Research – not by studying actual monkeys, penguins or line-standers, but by setting up a series of genetic simulations where they could dictate the rules of the evolutionary game. The experiment was as much an exercise in game theory as in evolutionary biology. Colman and Browning programmed a computer to play a variety of games in which the payoff varied depending on whether the simulated players made the same or different choices.