A new Harvard study reveals that "nice" players in a punishment-heavy version of prisoner's dilemma end up succeeding more than the ruthless players. Classic contests of prisoner's dilemma-where cooperation benefits both players, but cheating (where you say you'll cooperate but don't when your "opponent" does) benefits you most-inherently encourage players to defect (so that both players end up in the worst position). In this particular study (100 college students, 8,000 games), players could punish defecting opponents.

While game theory suggests that punishment makes two equals cooperate, punishment fails to influence when people play repeated games. The "nice" players who refrained from punishment tended to come out on top. "When faced with a nasty opponent, turning the other cheek and continuing to cooperate-or at least not handing out punishment-paid off more in the long run," the study found.

So apparently we're not all as bad as we thought: in fact, natural benevolence is the ticket to the top...or at least is the observed behavior of college kids forced to play 8,000 games of prisoner's dilemma.

Via USA Today