Negative behavior spreads faster, but its proponents burn out sooner than more positive people, making society as a whole evolve toward positive interaction over time, suggests SFI External Professor Stefan Thurner in an MIT Technology Review article.

Thurner, SFI Complex Systems Summer School student Roberta Sinatra, and Michael Szell studied Pardus, an online game with 380,000 players, as a proxy for real-world interactions and consequences. By recording players’ streams of actions and looking for unexpected patterns, they found that a positive or negative action spurs a player to respond similarly, and that a recipient of a negative action is more likely to spread bad behavior to others rather than just reciprocate.

But while negative actions are more infectious, negative players die sooner, either by being hunted down by the group or by giving up out of loneliness, explains the team.

“We interpret these findings as empirical evidence for self-organization towards reciprocal, good conduct within a human society.”

Read the article (July 6, 2011)