If you’re trying to drive to a destination as quickly as possible, you might think that knowing the traffic conditions would help you choose the quickest route for yourself. Traffic reports and new GPS technologies that provide traffic data are based on this assumption – but scientists have found that knowing this information may do more harm than good.
A recent study has investigated just how much time is lost due to individuals opting for strategies that maximize their own personal utility rather than the social optimum, which often aren’t the same. Physicists Hyejin Youn and Hawoong Jeong from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Daejeon, Korea, and computer scientist Michael Gastner from the Santa Fe Institute and the University of New Mexico in the US, call this lost time “the price of anarchy” (POA) that society must pay for the lack of individual coordination.
This would appear to be another demonstration that acting for a greater good rather than for individual gain actually benefits the individual as well. Check out Robert Axelrod’s excellent book The Evolution of Cooperation for more on this topic.