Large fluctuations and fixation in evolutionary games

Michael Assaf*, Mauro Mobilia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


We study large fluctuations in evolutionary games belonging to the coordination and anti-coordination classes. The dynamics of these games, modeling cooperation dilemmas, is characterized by a coexistence fixed point separating two absorbing states. We are particularly interested in the problem of fixation that refers to the possibility that a few mutants take over the entire population. Here, the fixation phenomenon is induced by large fluctuations and is investigated by a semiclassical WKB (Wentzel-Kramers- Brillouin) theory generalized to treat stochastic systems possessing multiple absorbing states. Importantly, this method allows us to analyze the combined influence of selection and random fluctuations on the evolutionary dynamics beyond the weak selection limit often considered in previous works. We accurately compute, including pre-exponential factors, the probability distribution function in the long-lived coexistence state and the mean fixation time necessary for a few mutants to take over the entire population in anti-coordination games, and also the fixation probability in the coordination class. Our analytical results compare excellently with extensive numerical simulations. Furthermore, we demonstrate that our treatment is superior to the Fokker-Planck approximation when the selection intensity is finite.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberP09009
JournalJournal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2010


  • Large deviations in non-equilibrium systems
  • Population dynamics (theory)


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