UC3M collaborates in the largest experiment in real time on cooperation in society

December 30, 2011

A total of 1,303 high school students in Aragon have participated in an online scientific-social experiment to determine the problems and conflicts arising from cooperation in present day society.

This experiment, organized by the Instituto Biocomputación y Física de Sistemas Complejos (The Institute for Biocomputation and Physics of Complex Systems) (BIFI) at the Universidad de Zaragoza, together with the Fundación Ibercivis and Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), is the largest one of its kind carried out in real time in this field until now.

The study starts with the hypothesis that the structure of the population determines the level of cooperation among its individuals. This experiment made it possible to carry out interaction between students from 42 secondary schools, based on the prototype of social conflict known as "The Prisoner's Dilemma". To be precise, this game shows that the greatest benefit for persons who interact is produced when both sides collaborate; however, if one person collaborates and the other does not, the latter obtains more benefits. This, on occasion, triggers the possibility of taking advantage of the collaboration of others. But if this tendency grows, in the end, nobody cooperates and nobody obtains benefits.

Experiment in real time

The significance of this experiment is that it is carried out in real time, in the space of three hours, among students from secondary schools throughout Aragon. In addition, this experiment featured a high degree of participation, with the largest existing results to date having been gathered by groups at Harvard University (120 participants) and UC3M (169 participants). In the latter case, the conclusion reached by the researchers from this Madrid university is that a situation where the majority of people collaborate is never attained. This is due to the fact that a significant portion of people never cooperate or do so depending on the decision of their neighbors, or their moods at the time, according to this experimental study. Another of the notable conclusions obtained is that there are different types of people: people who always try to help their neighbors (around 5 percent), some that never do so (35 percent) and others who cooperate according to their mood or depending on what their neighbors did previously (60 percent).

The presentation and live monitoring this experiment took place this past December 20 in the Aragon capital city at the La Espacio Zaragoza Activa, which became a monitoring and real time visualization room for the results of this experiment. During this event, in which Francisco Marcellán, Head of the UC3M Mathematics Department was present, the following also participated: Miguel Ángel García, Head of Research and Innovation for the Aragon Government; Ricardo Cavero, Head of Science and Technology for the Zaragoza Municipal Government; Maria Luisa Borao, Director of the Ibercaja Cultural Centers in Zaragoza; Alfonso Tarancón, Director of BIFI and Yamir Moreno, BIFI Scientific Secretary and experiment coordinator, together with the UC3M Full Professors of Mathematics, José A. Cuesta and Anxo Sánchez, both from the Grupo Interdisciplinar de Sistemas Complejos (GISC) (Interdisciplinary Group of Complex Systems). Professor Moreno presented the preliminary conclusions the following day.

More cooperation among girls

Thanks to the preliminary results of this study initial analysis has been able to prove that in certain parameters there are differences regarding the level of cooperation. For example, in relation to the sex of the participants, girls cooperated 10 percent more than did boys. A clear difference was also observed according to the type of secondary school program studied, with students of humanities and social sciences obtaining a level of cooperation 4 percent higher than those studying scientific technology. However, there were no important differences regarding the number of family members of the students (if they were only children or had more siblings) nor were there differences according to their geographical origins (if they were from rural or urban areas). In global terms, a 35 percent rate of cooperation was observed in the participants, which means that approximately one out of three students cooperated.

These results seem to confirm, according to the researchers, that the structure of the interaction network influences in a medium level of cooperation. That is, different levels of cooperation in the regular network have been observed in which all the users are connected with the same number of classmates/neighbors, and the heterogeneous, the so-called "scale-free" one, in which some persons are very connected (with many neighbors) and others very little. The researchers in charge of the experiment continue to extract data for more detailed analysis and with that will be able to obtain more results leading to in scientific journals publications.

Two types of tests

The experiment mainly consisted of two types of tests, each one made up of a different network. The first was a regular network, in which all the users were connected with the same number of schoolmates/neighbors. The second test used a heterogeneous network, the so-called "scale-free" types, in which some persons are very connected, that is, with many neighbors and others with very few. In both cases, the different behavior of the participants is compared when they always interact with the same neighbors, comparing that to what they do when after each interaction the structure of the population changes in a random way, and as such, with different neighbors.

If the hypothesis that the structure of the population determines the level of cooperation is true, different behavior will be observed when the neighbors are the same and when they change, and what is more, different levels of cooperation in the regular and heterogeneous network will be observed. If this is so, the hypothesis will be confirmed. On the contrary, the door will be left open to rule out the hypothesis, making it then be necessary to search for new alternatives to understand the main issue which is "the urgency of the cooperation".

This study has involved the participation of the following schools and institutes in Aragón. In the capital city of Zaragoza the following institutes participated: Goya, Pedro de Luna, Miralbueno, Ramón Pignatelli, Miguel Servet, Jerónimo Zurita, Miguel Catalán, José Manuel Blecua, Andalán, Pablo Gargallo, Avempace, Francisco Grande Covián, Fundación San Valero, Luis Buñuel, Ramón y Cajal, Pablo Serrano and Azucarera, and the schools: Liceo Europa, Teresiano del Pilar, Sansueña, O.D Santo Domingo de Silos, Sagrado Corazón, Escuelas Pías, The British Institute of Aragon, San Alberto Magno, El Pilar Maristas and La Salle Gran Vía. In other towns in the province the following institutes participated: Pirámide and Sierra de Guara in Huesca, Conde de Aranda in Alagón, Bajo Cinca in Fraga, Salvador Victoria in Monreal del Campo, Matarraña in Valderrobres, Zaurín in Ateca, Biello Aragón in Sabiñánigo, Gallicum in Zuera, Río Arba in Tauste, Rodanas in Épila, Ángel Sanz Briz in Casetas, Valle de Jilocain Calamocha and Benjamín Jarnés in Fuentes de Ebro and the school Santa Rosa-Altoaragón in Huesca.

The Aragon Government program Ciencia Viva also collaborated as the main organizer for all the participating public schools together with Hewlett Packard, Obra Social Ibercaja, the Zaragoza Municipal Government, El Corte Ingles Cultural Area and the Aragon Government as sponsors of the event.

Carlos III University of Madrid

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