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Tit for Tat Essay

The success of the tit for tat strategy, which is largely cooperative despite that its name emphasizes an adversarial nature, took many by surprise. In successive competitions various teams produced complex strategies which attempted to “cheat” in a variety of cunning ways, but tit for tat eventually prevailed in every competition. This result may give insight into how groups of animals (and particularly human societies) have come to live in largely (or entirely) cooperative societies, rather than the individualistic “red in tooth and claw” way that might be expected from individuals engaged in a Hobbesian state of nature.

This, and particularly its application to human society and politics, is the subject of Robert Axelrod’s book The Evolution of Cooperation. Moreover, the Tit for Tat strategy has been of beneficial use to social psychologists and sociologists in studying effective techniques to reduce conflict. Research has indicated that when individuals who have been in competition for a period of time no longer trust each another, the most effective competition reverser is the use of the tit for tat strategy.

Individuals commonly engage in behavioral assimilation, a process in which they tend to match their own behaviors to those displayed by cooperating or competing group members. Therefore, if Tit for Tat begins with cooperation, then cooperation ensues. On the other hand, if the other party competes, then TFT will lead the alternate party to compete as well. Ultimately, each action by the other member is countered with a matching response, competition with competition and cooperation with cooperation.

In the case of conflict resolution, the tit for tat strategy is effective for several reasons: the technique is recognized as clear, nice, provocable, and forgiving. Firstly, It is a clear and recognizable strategy. Those using it quickly recognize its contingencies and adjust their behavior accordingly. Moreover, it is considered to be nice as it begins with cooperation and only defects in following competitive move. The strategy is also provocable because it provides immediate retaliation for those who compete.

Finally, it is forgiving as it immediately produces cooperation should the competitor make a cooperative move. Individuals who employ the tit for tat strategy are generally considered to be tough but fair- a disposition that is often respected in the business/organization world. Those who always cooperate with a competitor are often viewed as weak, while those who consistently compete are perceived as unfair. In any case, the implications of the tit-for-tat technique have been of relevance to conflict research, resolution and many aspects of applied social science.


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