Indexed on: 21 Mar '19Published on: 09 Mar '19Published in: Scientific Reports
The occurrence of discrimination is an important problem in the social and economical sciences. Much of the discrimination observed in empirical studies can be explained by the theory of in-group favouritism, which states that people tend to act more positively towards peers whose appearances are more similar to their own. Some studies, however, find hierarchical structures in inter-group relations, where members of low-status groups also favour the high-status group members. These observations cannot be understood in the light of in-group favouritism. Here we present an agent based model in which evolutionary dynamics can result in a hierarchical discrimination between two groups characterized by a meaningless, but observable binary label. We find that discriminating strategies end up dominating the system when the selection pressure is high, i.e. when agents have a much higher probability of imitating their neighbour with the highest payoff. These findings suggest that the puzzling persistence of hierarchical discrimination may result from the evolutionary dynamics of the social system itself, namely the social imitation dynamics. It also predicts that discrimination will occur more often in highly competitive societies.