Nice Guys Finish First

Nice Guys Finish First

1986, Science  -   51 Comments
Ratings: 8.20/10 from 44 users.

Nice Guys Finish FirstNice Guys Finish First is a 1986 documentary by Richard Dawkins which discusses selfishness and cooperation, arguing that evolution often favors co-operative behavior, and focusing especially on the tit for tat strategy of the prisoner's dilemma game.

In the opening scene, Richard Dawkins responds very precisely to what he views as a misrepresentation of his first book The Selfish Gene. In particular the response of the right wing for using it as justification for social Darwinism and laissez-faire economics (free-market capitalism).

Richard Dawkins has examined this issue throughout his whole career and focused much of the recent documentary, The Genius of Charles Darwin on this very issue.

The concept of reciprocal altruism is a central theme of this documentary. Dawkins also examines the tragedy of the commons and the dilemma that it presents. He uses the large area of common land Port Meadow in Oxford, England which has been hurt by overgrazing as an example of the tragedy of the commons.

Fourteen academics as well as experts in game theory submitted their own computer programs to compete in a tournament to see who would win in the prisoner's dilemma. The winner was tit for tat. A program which is based on "equal retaliation" and Dawkins illustrates the four conditions of tit for tat.

* Unless provoked, the agent will always cooperate.
* If provoked, the agent will retaliate.
* The agent is quick to forgive.
* The agent must have a good chance of competing against the opponent more than once.

In a second trial, this time of over sixty applicants tit for tat won again.

The documentary does not seem to address much larger issues within the tragedy of the commons for example it only briefly mentions global warming. Yet "Initial niceness" is a conclusion that Richard Dawkins drew from this study and other research for effective cooperation which led him to believe that in fact, "Nice guys finish first."

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51 Comments / User Reviews

Leave a Reply to John Nash Cancel reply

  1. Haha

    I delivered a criticism on here, and it was silenced. I did nothing more than make a counter argument. I normally do not even have a problem with him. I just think this particular debate is flawed. Silenced. Not allowed to debate or hold views outside the norm. Sounds like dogma to me.

  2. Hubert

    Bad things happen to "nice"/"good" people all the time. The idea that they finish first is not rational at all. David Attenborough talks about this. A little boy with a worm in his eye that is making him blind. Another quote from David talks about ants normally not fighting each other until someone shakes the jar, then ants attack each other instead of blaming the one who shook the jar. The ants were all "nice" in the beginning.

  3. gabeezlebub

    Science provides the very proof that God exists. The evidence is lying all over the place, and right in front of your nose. The mere complexity of life and the universe itself could not have happened by chance. The odds? Impossible. That translates into zero. Do the math.
    Science is factual. Yet we can’t seem to learn from them. No matter how many facts God leaves lying around. And mankind thinks it is so intelligent.
    How does one explain any of this if there is no God? There can be no other rational explanation.
    That’s exactly the way God planned it. Will you pass his test? Or will you fail?

    1. kevin

      These are just your opinions stated as fact. You sound like a 5 year old rambling off his little catechism lesson. Grow up.

  4. Artur Gasparyan

    They should change the name of the game from Prisoner's Dilemma to Instagram Follower Dilemma

  5. Vexst Junglist

    insane arguments this guy has to deal with, im always shocked when i hear the lengths and things people will say just to not admit that they are wrong, is there a god? the ansure is whatever you want it to be until there is some scientific reason to belive it otherwise its just a waste of time, to state the obvious, amazingly thats not even obvious to a large proportion of people on this place we call home.

    "Just give me the light

    and pass the dro"
    -Sean paul-

  6. FreemonSandlewould

    Oh Lordy god you liberals suck at thinking!

    First you say "EVOLUTION! BELIEVE IT!"


    Well which one is it? The only condition where in

    Social darwinism != evolution

    is in the case that god exists. But you already said he didn't you libtard!

    Every time a liberal thinks a brain cell screams and dies.

    FYI: I do not believe in god FYI.

    1. Samuel Morrissey

      Evolution is a theory with huge and increasing amounts of evidence to support it, that describes how the current set of species evolved over vast expanses of time from earlier species go back far enough and all life today is directly descended from 1 individual simple bacteria like organism. One mechanism by which this process occurs is natural selection (loosely survival of the fittest) but it is by no means the only mechanism.

      Social Darwinism is the singular idea of survival of the fittest as applied to social/political interactions between humans and/or groups of humans. It leads directly to ideas like eugenics (artificial and controlled selection of humans) as well as basically denying any moral responsibility - It is an excuse or justification for people to be extremely $hitty towards each other, for their own benefit.

      How exactly are these == ?

      And what would god existing (or not) change about any of this?

      edit: And who are you replying to? (in order to direct your insults properly)

    2. Synapstro

      Unbelievably not true. Darwinism necessitates cooperation in some cases. It's mathematically deductible from a combination of the theory of evolutionary stable states and the theory games. Those of us who understand these concepts read your comment as total nonsense. It's like a child who hasn't learned to read arguing with an adult, who can read, about what's written on a road sign. As the child, you aver "but a friend who can read told me it says 'yield!' ", insisting the adult doesn't know what the sign says, and all the adult can do is say, "I can read it, and the sign says 'stop!' ". As a child, you have no idea about the world of knowledge you do not understand until you begin to understand it. You cannot know the degree to which one does not comprehend a topic until you begin to learn it.

    3. left2reason

      wow what a powerful,intelligent comment.Libtard?Evolution is social darwinism?Oh dear God republicans are hopeless.

    4. Kevin

      Using the word "libtard" proves you have the emotional and intellectual development of a 5 year old. Big suprise. It's like using the term poo-poo brain or I am rubber you are glue. Everyone is laughing at you because you cannot see how ignorant you are but it is truly sad. You have made a choice to be ignorant, and Ignorance is your god. You are so sad and pathetic but it's your choice to be that way. Your joke of an "agument" makes you look like a high school drop out. Again, no big suprise. Pathentic.

  7. FreemonSandlewould

    Global warming is a scam.

    Additionally Dawkins is so militantly atheist one has to suppose he actually believes. Why do I say that?

    Q: What is the opposite of love?

    A: Apathy. ( for hate would imply caring )

  8. KsDevil

    A clear explaination as to why the world is in such a mess. The cheats are in charge and the suckers are going extinct. Only the rise of the "tit for tat" can save us by making the cheats go extinct. Certainly the cheats won't help and the suckers will be useless unless re-educated. Time to make Prisoners Dilema required as part of getting a business degree.

  9. gsjikwblao

    @ Mark Stouffer

    As I understand your comment I would say I certainly agree with you. Someone would surly try to take advantage of the system. I assume that you did not gather the meaning of my opening line with the phrase "With a greater conviction of conscience". I believe an evolutionary movement into an increased sensitivity conscience will be necessary before such a system could function smoothly. If such a development were to occur, it would be consistent with evolution theory inasmuch as it can be seen as necessary if a 7 billion member race of conscious beings are to survive themselves.

    It may be that intellect, which is a fear generating engagement of individual perspective, cannot, through the formation of laws, stabilize our society.
    It may be that only the unifying perspective of increased sensitivity conscience can do this. This may be the very reason we have a convicting conscience; To save us from ourselves.

  10. gsjikwblao

    The message seems to be "it's smart to cooperate" because it is best for the collective whole. If the reason we do this is because we benefit as individuals then it may decay in the end. The reason for cooperation is rooted in self preservation. Once we have a world of cooperation where everyone was faring well, the most cunning among us would, driven by tendencies that had been there all along, slowly push down on the gas pedal. Others that are close behind them in this nature would respond by doing the same and by the time the "most cooperating" among them realized it, we would right back to the world we have now. I believe that cooperation is the best way to structure our society but it must be driven by compassion and not reasoning because reasoning will find a justified way to "choose D". In order to be sustainable, The "haves" must must cooperate with the "have nots". This cooperation will involve an even distribution of wealth in the world and that will be conscience-driven. I believe it unlikely that we will "reason" our way from here to there. It will require an evolutionary change in the strength of our convicting consciences.

    1. Blissful_Harmony

      I agree with this sagacity, it would seem it exists people moreso than in others already , however I also believe alternative environmental factors could also create what you are saying. An external/environmental/situational factor can change wealth distribution quite easily, and a wider interpretation of sustainability as a common goal applied thereafter should also do the trick :)
      Shiny things detracting from common goals need to be removed (when I say shiny things, I mean short term status recognition and things/propaganda purposefully detracting from what is real to keep the masses dumbed down and under control)

    2. gsjikwblao

      In what way is our current interpretation of sustainability narrow? What would be an example of a "wider" one?

    3. Blissful_Harmony

      :) A wider one than applied by a certain socio-economic demographic who seek to maintain status quo in terms of their own individual 'sustainability'. This was not aimed at your interpretation of sustainability. I get it. It is aimed at those who don't see sustainability for what it is and narrow the definition for self serving purposes :)

  11. dave.eggermont

    I think it's a very good question. Why aren't we more altruistic? Likes for everyone ! Also made me think of the march of the pinguins for some reason.

  12. wpsmithjr

    This document tries to show how cooperation gives a better outcome than selfishness, but the whole problem with the Commons is that it is cooperatively owned by all the farmers... and they are trying to all use it... which caused the overgrazing dilemma. Wouldn't it make more sense for one selfish person to use the land to his own benefit... and this way he could take care not to abuse it... and he would have a vested interest in the land since it is his.

    Also, isn't Dawkins an atheist? And yet his documentary seeks to prove that the teachings of Christ are the best way to live?

    Do unto others?

    Forgive your enemies?

    And in the end he talks about how the city of Oxford was built through cooperation. But it wasn't cooperation in the sense that the society got together and decided to cooperate and build the city... it was thousands of individuals working toward THEIR OWN SELF INTEREST that built the city over decades. Sure, there may be a few buildings that were built by the government through cooperation... but the majority of the city was built by individuals selfishly trying to improve their own life.

    1. avd420

      I'm pretty sure you're last paragraph agrees with what Dawkins was trying to say.

      Also, isn't Dawkins an atheist? And yet his documentary seeks to prove that the teachings of Christ are the best way to live?

      Ummm, are you implying that being an atheist means that you're against every moral lesson in the bible?

      By the way, those lessons were around much before Jesus, not to mention they were put in the bible by authors centuries later, so it's not "christs" teachings.

    2. gsjikwblao

      Yes "it's not "Christ's" teachings". A record of his own recognition of this is in John 7:16-"My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me"

      If we can understand that "Jesus" is a figurative reference to our convicting consciences and "God" is a figurative reference to the love which flows between our consciences, then we can understand this verse to be a reference to love giving us, through a "sixth sense" (our convicting consciences) direct contact with himself (or if you prefer, "itself") in order for us to survive the destructive nature of the individual perspective to which we are subjected to in the initial stage of our nature.
      Inasmuch as love, being a drawing motivational force, could not function as such without something to draw upon, we can understand physical existence, perceived from the fear-generating perspective of separate, pain detecting physical bodies to be an inevitable by- product of this creating force.

      Thus we can understand his "teaching" to be as old as the universe itself.

  13. wpsmithjr

    I haven't watched this yet, but I think I get the idea. Does Dawkins mention that the reason that people cooperate is not necessarily to make society better... but rather to make their own lot in life better? Cooperation, altruism, charity... all these things are generally done through what are originally selfish interests.

    People who give to charities that are looking for a cure to cancer generally have been affected by cancer in some way. Maybe someone close to them died from cancer.

    This is why the free market works. If you are my customer, I don't want to rip you off. I want a fair transaction that benefits both of us. This means you might want to do business with me again. Sure, I might make more off of one transaction by ripping you off... but that would be the end of us doing business together.

    1. gsjikwblao

      Is the free market working?

    2. Unity

      That is assuming the customer finds out s/he got ripped off. A free market doesn't deal with corruption, arguably the main cause of deffectiveness in any economic/political system

  14. Mark Stouffer

    Altruism doesn't mean co-operation. Proving co-operation is good does not prove altruism is good. It makes a "straw man" of the critique of altruism.

    It is interesting that he uses the Commons, public lands with no property rights among cattle-herders. The land is overgrazed because the people who use it don't own what they use. They have not yet achieved property rights.

    The program blames the lack of property rights on... laissez-faire capitalism????

    Adrian and Anita discover the fragility of trust. You can see how it hurts their winnings. But Dawkins does not even notice how a lack of property rights can hurt trust, and diminish wealth creation.

    1. wpsmithjr

      Very astute observation. Consider yourself "liked". It all still comes down to selfishness in the end. All the cooperation, altruism, charity, etc. in the world comes initially from a selfish thought...people trying to make THEIR lives better. If they happen to help other people along the way, that's just a plus... but not the driving force.

    2. Mark Stouffer

      Yes they are still doing what they believe is best for them to be doing. Altruism can never actually be achieved. Then you are supposed to feel guilty for not having achieved it. To practice altruism fully you would have to die (so that you consume no more resources which are best left for others) and then remove all traces of your existence (so that you could not in some way benefit from the glory of your altruistic act).

      Altruism can only be practiced inconsistently.

      Business has gone on successfully for centuries and does not need a British intellectual to tell them how to do it. In fact British intellectuals have learned more from business than the other way around.

    3. gsjikwblao

      With a greater conviction of conscience, jointly owned property would not be abused by any one individual. Each person would take of the land only what the land could sustain while providing the same benefit to all involved. If someone in the group extracted more, and the others did not reciprocate, he would experience a feeling of guilt that would constitute an "inner voice" to motivate him to turn from his way. Only in this way will the influence of convicting conscience spread. In response to chastisements of verbal reasoning such a person will apply their deceptive intellect in defense of their fear-driven belief system to justify their actions. We must choose "c" again and again and suffer others choosing "d" again and again before such a system will take hold and grow.

    4. Mark Stouffer

      That system might work great if everyone agrees with you. But it falls apart as soon as someone disagrees with you. You just have underestimated the work men have put into laws for when people disagree.

      Tell you what, try running a company like that and see how it turns out. Do that BEFORE trying to convince others to force a government to run like that.

  15. 0zyxcba1

    me like
    my my how young Dawkins once was
    it is commendably narrow in scope so as not to overstep limitations inherent to the imposed format while all the while taking full advantage of those resources which were available

    it is dated but I hasten to add that its age has in no way detracted from it freshness

    for those browsing comments in search of something worth watching give this a try

  16. QueenBee

    In the "tit-for-tat" game, there were 3 strategies, not two: Cheaters, Cooperators, and Grudgers. The Grudgers essentially police the Cheaters by making their strategy non-tenable over multiple games.

    As humans, not only do we know when someone cheats, we also share that knowledge. A cheater can get away with bad behavior a few times, but it generally catches up to them in the form of a bad reputation or even jail.

    @akex: If by 'bad guy' you mean someone who is only out for their own advantage even at the expense of their teammates, they aren't good *team* members at all. If they can't give up their selfishness to achieve the overall team goal, the team loses, and therefore so does the selfish player.

    1. dave.eggermont

      Wouldn't the ultimate bad guy be the one to mirror the nice guy for an amount of time so it never get distrusted but on a long term it would gain?
      Like driving behind a slightly faster car then saving up just to pass it in the end ? Like they do in pro cycling.
      Sometimes I think I'm evil. :p

    2. Kateye70

      Well, at what point does the 'bad guy' make his move? What does he do afterwards? Stay where he made his mess? Move on? Move on to where? At what personal cost, since he presumably spent some time setting up his scam?

      The longer you spend in one location the more you end up investing in it. The longer you maintain a deception the harder it becomes to maintain. A bad reputation will follow you, especially nowadays when moving cross country no longer means losing communication with people you left behind.

      The sports analogies for bicycle or car racing don't apply here since those are single-winner competitions, and the strategy you described is not being done in secret. The person being followed is perfectly aware of it, and willing to do the same given the opportunity.

  17. akex

    Its bad guys that make a good team the ones that finish first!

    Human nature has its red in teeth and claw pretty much well ingrained. Don't full yourself Dawkins!

  18. tk

    It isn't absolute Karen.
    As stated in the doc only if there is an initial decent number of non-cheating individuals can cooperation exist and spread.
    Luckily we are humans and we can document and we can discuss beforehand. There is nothing bad about getting to mutual ground through civilized conversation, even if there is no agreement at first.
    The game supposed that none could talk and discuss with the other before playing. Real life isn't thankfully always so.
    You can learn and choose to discuss choices with affected parties beforehand.

  19. Karen

    Wasn't it Darwin that said societies succeed through cooperation and social skills.

    1. Mark Stouffer

      Adam Smith beat him to it.

  20. jh

    albert i wouldnt bet on either side, we are gonna get alot bigger problems than religion in 2000 years and i couldnt care less who will be remembered if he does the good work we should all be doing, educate the idiots

    all i know is that richard has done more on this planet than your hole family has done in centuries and you will probably never do anything close to that

    what would you do in hes shoes? shut up like puppy i bet:D

  21. albert

    This guy and his acolytes are getting really tiresome. In another 2000 years we will still be discussing Christ. Dawkins? Ha! And if you think this statement is wrong you are not nearly as smart as you think you are.

  22. John Nash

    I enjoyed the thorough analysis of the prisoner's dilemma game, but I am not convinced that the "tit for tat" strategy really works in games with more than 2 people. It sounds as if there was just one defector, such as in the WWI example and the grazing animals problem then everyone suffers.

  23. Angel R.

    Dawkins work is much much much! appreciated.

    The science posts are growing the fastest, thats good, VERY GOOD.


  24. Dr. Dunkleosteus

    This doc clearly shows it's age. This was back when Richard Dawkins was friendly (sort of). As he gets older, he gets more and more shrewd. This is not to discredit him, I actually quite enjoy him and feel that he is a breath of fresh air and a role model in my life.

    I think after so many years of working to wake people up to science and atheism and still meeting people who are completely in the dark must be an incredibly frustrating endeavor. :)

    One problem I had with their little experiment with the money and the triangles: They should have used a different method of writing down the choices. The subjects were supposed to be unaware of the others' choice (the black divider), however it was plainly obvious that the sound the thick, black markers made when writing a D was different than when writing a C.

    All the subject had to do was wait for the other person to write his/her answer down and listen for the sound of the marker. One, continous sound (the swooping of the letter C) or the two, separate sounds of the letter D.

    Maybe it's a small issue that wasn't exploited, but I know I would pick up on it if I were taking the experiment. I suppose his attempts to get them to write at exactly the same moment was a way to avoid this...

    1. Mark Stouffer

      I noticed that too. It would be silly for a scientist to assume that people wouldn't notice this at least subconsciously.

      And that isn't the only problem with the experiment.

  25. graham

    well, after my tirade against 'the hasidic drug-dealer' or whatever it's called, i felt compelled to make a friendlier commentary, fortunately i happened to very much enjoy the first thing i watched, this. excellent insightful documentary. in my opinion, not boring at all. i think the fruits of cooperation are very evident at the top of eco-social ladder. the rich/powerful all scratch each other's backs, while setting we "suckers" at the bottom against each other. it's time we band together and work for our interests! it's our world too.

  26. roland gopel

    hmmmm i don't really know richard dawkins from a bar of soap but this docco is quite compelling in its own right i think.
    i enjoyed.

    thanks again Vlatko

  27. equus

    Over-exposed…he should take a rest…a tad tired of him…

  28. Waldo

    Ahhh, you either love Richard or you hate him. I tend toward the first option but I can see why many do not. He is arrogant as h#ll, but thats precisely why I love the guy. Its about time us atheist stop worrying about the lack of social acceptance or excepting that old religee defense of "You can't prove he doesn't exist". No we can't, but you can't prove the flying spaghetti monster doesn't exist either, do we give his existance any validity? Besides when did we start basing belief on what you can't prove instead of what you can? I see the usefulness of spirituality and I really don't mind if someone wants to believe in God, just keep it out of the schools, politics, and the law. In fact keep it out of any decision that could also affect us non believers and all will be fine. Not having religion tied up in these things doesn't keep people from believing or practicing their chosen religion, including it does force us nonbelievers to follow ideas and dogma against our will. No ones rights extend past the point of infringing on anothers.

    Also if we are going to have freedom of religion let's mean it. No more lies about this being a christian nation, it was founded by diests not christians. No more complaining about mosques around ground zero, we have churches around abortion clinics where christians murder doctors in cold blood. No one fairy tale is any more valid or moral than the other.

  29. bozzy

    richard borrrrrrrkins is more like it

  30. TJ

    I enjoyed this. Dated, but as interesting as any of Dawkins' stuff.

  31. Toby123

    Great documentary. richard dawkins is one of my personal heroes, just wanted to say thabks for the site this is great!