Kilroy Was Here
February 25, 2003
The Evolution of Cooperation in NASCAR
I've often been intrgued by traffic. In many ways, I find it a beautiful thing. With just a few rules, some social conventions, and each driver trying to get to their location as quickly as possible, a well-choregraphed ballet emerges where brake lights, banking, and merging emerge.
In Social Science at 190 MPH on NASCAR's Biggest Superspeedways, David Ronfeldt details the mechanisms for this emerging cooperation from competition in NASCAR. For those of us who are fans of game theory, such as the Prisoner's Dilemma, and emerging cooperation from individual competition, this, along with Axelrod's Evolution of Cooperation are must reads.
Here's the abstract from the article:
In aerodynamically intense stock-car races like the Daytona 500, the drivers form into multi-car draft lines to gain extra speed. A driver who does not enter a draft line (slipstream) will lose. Once in a line, a driver must attract a drafting partner in order to break out and try to get further ahead. Thus the effort to win leads to ever-shifting patterns of cooperation and competition among rivals. This provides a curious laboratory for several social science theories: (1) complexity theory, since the racers self-organize into structures that oscillate between order and chaos; (2) social network analysis, since draft lines are line networks whose organization depends on a driver's social capital as well as his human capital; and (3) game theory, since racers face a "prisoner's dilemma" in seeking drafting partners who will not defect and leave them stranded. Perhaps draft lines and related "bump and run" tactics amount to a little-recognized dynamic of everyday life, including in structures evolving on the Internet.
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