Forget about that "Nice guys finish last" mantra you've heard so much about.
A new study by two biologists at Michigan State University says that nice organisms actually finish first.
"We found evolution will punish you if you're selfish and mean," said lead author Christoph Adami.
Its results challenge a popular study from 2012 that was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. In it, scientists used a test called "Prisoner's Dilemma," where two prisoners are hypothetically offered freedom if they choose to rat the other out. If both prisoners talk, they each spend three months in jail. If both keep their mouths shut, they each get their sentences shortened. And if only one person snitches, that person gets to go free. The test concluded that selfish players would ultimately beat cooperative players, because it is in your interest to look out for yourself.
Amadi and Hintze set out to determine if evolution favored selfish players. They used computers to run thousands of simulations and found cooperative players actually benefited in the long run.
"For a short time and against a specific set of opponents, some selfish organisms may come out ahead," Amadi explained. "But selfishness isn't evolutionarily sustainable."
Ultimately, they said, selfish players can only benefit if they know who their opponents are. Once they are out of that setting, they are forced to cooperate.
A similar study was published in 2008 by a scientist at Harvard University, where 100 Boston-area college students played a game over and over and were given the chance to make money by cooperating with or punishing each other. Those who gave out the least amount of punishments ultimately made the most money.