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Front. Robot. AI | doi: 10.3389/frobt.2018.00009

When it's Good to Feel Bad: an Evolutionary Model of Guilt and Apology

Sarita Rosenstock1 and  Cailin O'Connor1*
  • 1Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine, United States

We use techniques from evolutionary game theory to analyze the conditions under which guilt can provide individual fitness benefits, and so evolve. In particular, we focus on the benefits of guilty apology. We consider models where actors err in an iterated prisoner's dilemma and have the option to apologize. Guilt either improves the trustworthiness of apology, or imposes a cost on actors who apologize. We analyze the stability and likelihood of evolution of such a `guilt-prone' strategy against cooperators, defectors, grim-triggers, and individuals who offer fake apologies, but continue to defect. We find that in evolutionary models guilty apology is more likely to evolve in cases where actors interact repeatedly over long periods of time, where the costs of apology are low or moderate, and where guilt is hard to fake. Researchers interested in naturalized ethics, and emotion researchers, can employ these results to assess the plausibility of fuller accounts of the evolution of guilt.

Keywords: evolutionary game theory, Game theory, Guilt, moral emotions, prisoner's dilemma

Received: 22 Sep 2017; Accepted: 22 Jan 2018.

Edited by:

Luís M. Pereira, Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

Reviewed by:

Luis Alberto Martinez-Vaquero, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Fernando P. Santos, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal  

Copyright: © 2018 Rosenstock and O'Connor. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Cailin O'Connor, University of California, Irvine, Logic and Philosophy of Science, 793 SST, UC Irvine, Irvine, 92697, California, United States,