The social evolution of genocide across time and geographic space: Perspectives from evolutionary game theory

Charles H. Anderton


A standard evolutionary game theory model is used to reveal the interpersonal and geographic characteristics of a population that make it vulnerable to accepting the genocidal aims of political leaders. Under conditions identified in the space-less version of the model, genocide architects can engineer the social metamorphosis of a peaceful people-group into one that supports, or does not resist, the architects’ atrocity goals. The model reveals policy interventions that prevent the social evolution of genocide among the population. The model is then extended into geographic space by analyzing interactions among peaceful and aggressive phenotypes in a Moore neighborhood. Key concepts of the analyses are applied to the onset and spread of genocide during the Holocaust (1938-1945) and to the prevention of genocide in Côte d'Ivoire (2011). [JEL codes: C73, D74]


Genocide; social evolution; peacekeeping; aggression; Holocaust

Full Text:



Anderton, C.H. 2010. “Choosing Genocide: Economic Perspectives on the Disturbing Rationality of Race Murder.” Defence and Peace Economics. Vol. 21, No. 5-6, pp. 459-486.

Anderton, C.H. and J. Brauer. 2015. “Genocide,” in J.G. Backhaus, general ed., and G. Ramello, section ed., Encyclopedia of Law and Economics. Berlin: Springer.

Anderton, C.H. and J. Brauer, eds. Forthcoming. Economic Aspects of Genocides, Other Mass Atrocities, and Their Prevention. New York: Oxford University Press.

Arce, D.G. and T. Sandler. 2003. “An Evolutionary Game Approach to Fundamentalism and Conflict.” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics. Vol. 159, No. 1, pp. 132-154.

Arce, D.G. and T. Sandler. 2009. “Fitting In: Group Effects and the Evolution of Fundamentalism.” Journal of Policy Modeling. Vol. 31, No. 5, pp. 739-757.

Bellamy, A.J. and P.D. Williams. 2011. “The New Politics of Protection? Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and the Responsibility to Protect.” International Affairs. Vol. 87, No. 4, pp. 825-850.

[BBC] British Broadcasting Corporation. 2014. “UK Imams Condemn Isis in Online Video.” BBC News Online. 11 July 2014. [accessed16 December 2014].

Christakis, N.A. and J.H. Fowler. 2012. “Social Contagion Theory: Examining Dynamic Social Networks and Human Behavior.” Statistics in Medicine. Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 556-577.

Constable, P. 2014. “U.S. Muslim Leaders Denounce Islamic State, Pledge to Dissuade Youth from Joining.” Washington Post Online. 10 September 2014. [accessed 15 December 2014].

Curthoys, A. and J. Docker. 2008. “Defining Genocide,” pp. 9-41 in D. Stone, ed. The Historiography of Genocide. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dixit, A.K., S. Skeath, and D. H. Reiley, Jr. 2013. Games of Strategy. 4th ed. New York: W.W. Norton.

Eck, K. and L. Hultman. 2007. “One-sided Violence against Civilians in War: Insights from New Fatality Data.” Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 233-246.

Ellison, G. 2000. “Basins of Attraction, Long-Run Stochastic Stability, and the Speed of Step-by-Step Evolution.” Review of Economic Studies. Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 17-45.

Galeotti, A., S. Goyal, M.O. Jackson, F. Vega-Redondo, and L. Yariv. 2010. “Network Games.” Review of Economic Studies. Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 218-244.

Goldhagen, D.J. 1996. Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Knopf.

Harrigan, N., P. Achananuparp, and E. Lim. 2012. “Influentials, Novelty, and Social Contagion: The Viral Power of Average Friends, Close Communities, and Old News.” Social Networks. Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 470-480.

Harrington, J. 2008. Games, Strategies and Decision Making. New York: Worth Publishers.

Hauert, C. 2002. “Effects of Space in 2x2 Games.” International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos. Vol. 12, No. 7, pp. 1531-1548.

Hodas, N.O. and K. Lerman. 2014. “The Simple Rules of Social Contagion.” Scientific Reports. Vol. 4, Article No. 4343, pp. 1-7.

[HRW] Human Rights Watch. 2011. “They Killed Them Like It Was Nothing”: The Need for Justice for Côte d’Ivoire’s Post-Election Crimes. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Ille, S. 2014. “The Dynamics of Norms and Conventions under Local International and Imitation.” International Game Theory Review. Vol. 16, No. 3, Article 1 [23 pages].

Jackson, M.O. 2014. “Networks in the Understanding of Economic Behaviors.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 3-22.

Killingback, T. and M. Doebeli. 1996. “Spatial Evolutionary Game Theory: Hawks and Doves Revisited.” Proceedings: Biological Sciences. Vol. 263, No. 1374, pp. 1135-1144.

Lemkin, R. 1944. Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Maynard Smith, J. 1982. Evolution and the Theory of Games. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Messall, R. 2000. “The Evolution of Genocide.” Human Life Review. Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 47-75.

Morris, S. 2000. “Contagion.” Review of Economic Studies. Vol. 67, No. 1, pp. 57-78.

Moses, A.D. 2010. “Raphael Lemkin, Culture, and the Concept of Genocide,” pp. 19-41 in D. Bloxham and A.D. Moses, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies. New York: Oxford University Press.

Munshi, K. 2014. “Community Networks and the Process of Development.” Journal of Economic Perspectives. Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 49-76.

Nowak, M.A. 2006. Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pettersson, T. 2014. “UCDP One-sided Violence Codebook, Version 1.4.” Uppsala Conflict Data Program, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University.

Smith, E.O. 2009. “Evolution, Primates, and Subaltern Genocide,” pp. 159-187 in N.A. Robins and A. Jones, eds. Genocides by the Oppressed: Subaltern Genocide in Theory and Practice. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Vági, Z., L. Csősz, and G. Kádár. 2013. The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of Genocide. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Verwimp, P. 2011. “The 1990-92 Massacres in Rwanda: A Case of Spatial and Social Engineering.” Journal of Agrarian Change. Vol. 11, No. 3, pp. 396-419.

Waller, J. 2007. Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Weibull, J.W. 1995. Evolutionary Game Theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.