Evolution and the Theory of Games

  • John Maynard Smith


I want in this article to trace the history of an idea. It is beginning to become clear that a range of problems in evolution theory can most appropriately be attacked by a modification of the theory of games, a branch of mathematics first formulated by Von Neumann and Morgenstern in 1944 for the analysis of human conflicts. The problems are diverse and include not only the behaviour of animals in contest situations but also some problems in the evolution of genetic mechanisms and in the evolution of ecosystems. It is not, however, sufficient to take over the theory as it has been developed in sociology and apply it to evolution. In sociology, and in economics, it is supposed that each contestant works out by reasoning the best strategy to adopt, assuming that his opponents are equally guided by reason. This leads to the concept of a ‘minimax’ strategy, in which a contestant behaves in such a way as to minimise his losses on the assumption that his opponent behaves so as to maximise them. Clearly, this would not be a valid approach to animal conflicts. A new concept has to be introduced, the concept of an ‘evolutionary stable strategy’.


Pure Strategy Stable Strategy Evolutionary Stable Strategy Hamadryas Baboon Animal Conflict 
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© John Maynard Smith 1988

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  • John Maynard Smith

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