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The Drama of the Commons 4 Factors Influencing Cooperation in Commons Dilemmas: A Review of Experimental Psychological Research Shirli Kopelman, J. Mark Weber, and David M. Messick This chapter reviews recent experiments on psychological factors that influence cooperation in commons dilemmas. Commons dilemmas are social dilemmas in which noncooperation between individual people leads to the deterioration and possible collapse of a resource (Hardin, 1968; Van Lange et al., 1992a). Hardin’s parable about herdsmen who share a common pasture— each has an incentive to raise the number of sheep grazing, but if each herdsman does so they risk ruining the pasture—illustrates the prototypical commons dilemma. From an economic perspective, commons dilemmas are one class of social interactions in which equilibrium outcomes are (Pareto) inefficient. Such inefficient equilibria are not confined to resource and environmental situations, but arise in other domains as diverse as industrial organization, public finance, and macroeconomic policy. Formally, all social dilemmas can be defined by three characteristics (Dawes, 1980; Messick and Brewer, 1983; Yamagishi, 1986): (1) a noncooperative choice is always more profitable to the individual than a cooperative choice, regardless We would like to thank the National Science Foundation for funding this ambitious project, and Elke Weber and Paul Stern for shepherding our paper and this project to completion. We would like to thank the three blind reviewers and an external coordinator for valuable comments that helped us frame the final draft of this chapter. We would also like to thank colleagues in our field, as well as the other authors and editors of this volume, for their comments on the early drafts of this chapter. We are grateful for their encouragement and the many ways this chapter has improved because of their input. We also want to express special appreciation to the “practitioner participants” of the International Association for the Study of Common Property 2000 Conference who assured us that the experimental work being done in behavioral labs around the world is relevant to their work and sheds explanatory light on their efforts in the field.
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The Drama of the Commons of the choices made by others; (2) a noncooperative choice is always harmful to others compared to a cooperative choice; and (3) the aggregate amount of harm done to others by a noncooperative choice is greater than the profit to the individual. Commons dilemmas (also called resource dilemmas) are a subset of social dilemmas that have traditionally been defined as situations in which collective noncooperation leads to a serious threat of depletion of future resources (Hardin, 1968; Van Lange et al., 1992a). They can be categorized as “social traps” because behavior that is personally gratifying in the short term can lead to long-term collective costs (Cross and Guyer, 1980; Platt, 1973). Although we focus on commons dilemmas, we also draw on relevant research on other types of social dilemmas such as the prisoners’ dilemma and the problem of public goods. The first part of this chapter places recent research in a historical perspective lays out our framework and provides basic definitions. The second part provides a critical review of the recent literature within a categorical framework we developed. The third part concludes by linking the issues raised in our review to the other chapters in this volume. INTRODUCTION Historical Roots of Experimental Research on Commons Dilemmas The modern history of social psychological research on common property management, commons dilemmas, resource dilemmas, or social dilemmas—as the field is variously labeled—began in the 1950s. In their path-breaking book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944), Von Neumann and Morgenstern introduced a specific class of models that outlined a theory of individual decision making (with the axiomatization of preferences and utilities) and proposed a theory of social interdependence for both zero-sum and nonzero-sum games. Although economists had been studying departures from competitive equilibrium since the turn of the century, this book spurred a flurry of empirical investigations that explored decision making and utility functions. By the late 1950s, the general ideas of game theory had been introduced to social psychologists in a formal manner by Luce and Raiffa (1957) and in terms of psychological theory by Thibaut and Kelley (1959). The 1960s saw the proliferation of experiments on two-person games, largely prisoners’ dilemma games, and, more importantly, on the generalization of the prisoners’ dilemma idea to applied multiperson situations. Two of the important publications of this time, Olson’s (1965) The Logic of Collective Action and Hardin’s (1968) celebrated article “The Tragedy of the Commons,” highlighted the issues for the scientific community. During this period, the interests of experimental psychologists and experimental economists diverged. Economists continued to focus on rules and institutions, as well as payoff structures (for an excellent account of the early development of experimental economics, see Davis and
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The Drama of the Commons Holt, 1993; Roth, 1995). Psychologists became interested in psychological factors such as individual differences (Kelley and Stahelski, 1970; Messick and McClintock, 1968), the effects on behavior of changing the payoffs (Kelley and Grezlak, 1972), and the effects of communication (Dawes, et al., 1977). More generally, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, psychologists examined factors that influence cooperation across the range of social dilemmas, including commons dilemmas, prisoners’ dilemmas, and public goods tasks (for a broader review of social dilemmas in the social psychological research, see Dawes, 1980; Komorita and Parks, 1994; Messick and Brewer, 1983). Much of the early work on prisoners’ dilemmas was criticized on the grounds that it was atheoretical and that it had little to say about extra-laboratory affairs (Pruitt and Kimmel, 1977). One interesting theme that has emerged from the more recent research we reviewed is the extent to which people are, or are not, other-regarding (how, if at all, people take others’ welfare into account). The nature in which they are, or they become, other-regarding has become a central research question. Although the hypothesis that people have preferences for the welfare of others is at least as old as Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments,1 psychologists have found this question pivotal for understanding choice behavior in interdependent situations. Early efforts in the latter half of the 20th century were made by Sawyer (1966), who tried to measure altruism, by Conrath and Deci (1969), who were estimating a “bivariate” utility function, and by Messick and McClintock (1968), who used a type of random utility model to assess social motives for allocating distributive outcomes in situations of social interdependence. In the Messick and McClintock model, each preference (maximize own outcome in absolute terms, maximize own outcome in relative terms, and maximize joint outcomes of both self and other) had sizable nonzero probabilities. In the 1970s researchers in economics (e.g., Scott, 1972) and in the behavioral sciences (e.g., MacCrimmon and Messick, 1976) began to explore preference structures that could produce behavior that appeared to be altruistic, selfish, and competitive at the same time. In the 1980s, Messick and Sentis (1985) introduced the concept of a “social utility function” that was later expanded by Lowenstein et al., (1989). A social utility function posits additive preferences for one’s own outcomes and preferences for the difference between one’s outcome and that of others. Both studies found that the latter function takes its maximum when payoffs to self and other are equal, supporting the assumption made by Falk et al. (this volume:Chapter 5). Their economic model further generalizes the social utility component to comparisons with more than one other person. Our Framework This chapter focuses on experimental work published in major peer-reviewed journals in psychology. In passing, we note experimental work in economics that bears on variables of interests to psychologists. We included studies that manipu-
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The Drama of the Commons lated factors that influence cooperation in commons dilemmas and sorted these factors according to the aspect of the type of manipulation involved. We identified nine classes of independent variables that influence cooperation in commons dilemmas: social motives, gender, payoff structure, uncertainty, power and status, group size, communication, causes, and frames. We organized these classes to first distinguish between individual differences (stable personality traits) and situational factors (the environment). Situational factors were further differentiated into those related to the task structure itself (the decision structure and the social structure) and those related to the perception of the task (see Figure 4-1). In the psychological literature, the main types of individual differences that have been studied are social motives and gender. The decision structure of the FIGURE 4-1 Elements influencing cooperation in commons dilemmas.
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The Drama of the Commons task includes factors like the payoff structure and the amount and type of uncertainty involved in the resource. The social structure includes factors such as the power and status of the individuals or organizations involved, the size of the group, and the ability of people to communicate with one another. Perceptual factors include perceived causes of shortages, or the way cooperation is framed. An Experimental Primer Psychologists generally use an experimental approach to test hypotheses in a laboratory environment. They use scientific and statistical methods that control for extraneous influences and thereby reveal causal relationships between the variables studied. Some participants are assigned to perform a task in a control condition, while others are assigned to an experimental condition. The only difference between these two conditions is an experimental manipulation. As a result, if the two groups have statistically different outcomes (dependent variable[s]), these can be attributed to the experimental manipulation (independent variable[s]). Random assignment of participants to the experimental and control groups enables scientists to identify causal factors. Imagine you just entered an experimental lab as a participant in a study. You are told that you will be participating in a decision-making task. You and several other people will be playing a game that simulates harvesting decisions by commercial fishermen over a period of 10 seasons. You receive some background information and are asked to make harvesting decisions over several rounds (each round representing a consecutive fishing season). You may be told that it is in your interest to maximize profits, but if the level of fish drops below a certain level, the reproduction rate will drop and there may be less fish to go around. You may or may not receive feedback about simultaneous decisions of other participants, about the size of the resource pool, about the replenishment rate, and other variables. As a participant you are not aware of the factors being studied, nor do you know whether you are in a control or experimental group. If a researcher wants to study the influence of communication on cooperation in a commons dilemma, then the information you and the other participants receive will be identical. However, in the experimental condition and not in the control condition, the fishermen may be allowed to communicate after five rounds (i.e., five seasons). Indeed, a well-documented finding reveals that experimental groups that are allowed to communicate consistently cooperate more than groups in which no communication is allowed (for a review see Dawes, 1980; Kerr and Kaufman-Gilliland, 1994; Messick and Brewer, 1983). Research described later in this chapter attempts to identify what aspects of communication are critical for developing cooperation. The strength of the experimental method is its ability to test causal relationships between isolated variables in a controlled environment. Achieving such control over interacting variables is not generally possible in the field. However,
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The Drama of the Commons the degree of control has also, at times, been construed as a limitation. Despite the common assumption that lab research offers poor external validity (i.e., ability to generalize findings outside the lab), recent empirical work suggests that lab research reliably yields findings comparable in both nature and effect size to those of field research across multiple domains of inquiry (Anderson et al., 1999). Although a lab environment is by design artificial in that it isolates behavior from many of the large number of simultaneous and interacting influences that affect behavior in the field, it need not ignore context. Often an experimental design simultaneously tests the influence of two independent variables (e.g., trust and communication) so that the influence of one on the other can be evaluated. For example, a recent study on the prisoners’ dilemma suggests that in simple tasks, there is no difference between face-to-face communication and e-mail communication, while in complex settings, face-to-face communication elicits more cooperation than e-mail communication (Frohlich and Oppenheimer, 1998). The interaction between the type of communication and the type of task informs us that without examining both factors, it is difficult to predict cooperation. REVIEW OF RECENT FINDINGS IN THE EXPERIMENTAL LITERATURE We begin this section by discussing the effects of differences among people, namely social motives and gender. Individual Differences Social Motives Social motives have been conceptualized as stable individual characteristics. Based on experiments using the prisoners’ dilemma, Kelley and Stahelski (1970:89) concluded that “two types of persons (cooperative versus competitive personalities) exist in the world whose dispositions are so stable and their interaction so ‘programmed’ by these dispositions that (a) they do not influence each other at the dispositional level, and (b) they do not influence each other’s world views.” Although in theory, an infinite number of social motives (sometimes referred to as social value orientations) can be distinguished (McClintock, 1976, 1978), a common theoretical classification identifies four major motivational orientations (McClintock, 1972): (1) individualism—the motivation to maximize one’s own gains; (2) competition—the motivation to maximize relative gains, the difference between one’s outcome and that of the other; (3) cooperation—the motivation to maximize joint gain; and (4) altruism—the motivation to maximize other parties’ gains. Individualism and competition motives often are referred to as “proself” motives, whereas cooperation and altruism are referred to as “prosocial” motives.
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The Drama of the Commons Social motives are measured using a series of decomposed games—each game requires a decision regarding points to be allocated to oneself and a contingent sum to be allocated to some other person—with fixed choices that represent the three most empirically frequent types: individualistic, competitive, and cooperative social motives (Kuhlman and Marshello, 1975). Because the task used to evaluate social motives is an internally consistent measure (Liebrand and Van Run, 1985) with high test-retest reliability (Kuhlman et al., 1986), it provides a dependable tool for measuring social motives. In the context of resource dilemmas, consistent findings demonstrate that proself individuals harvest significantly more than people with prosocial motives (Kramer et al., 1986; Parks, 1994; Roch and Samuelson, 1997). Similarly, in scenarios that mirror “real-life” social dilemmas such as traffic congestion, prosocial individuals exhibit a greater preference to commute by public transportation rather than private car, and are more concerned with collective outcomes vis-à-vis the environment than proself individuals (Van Vugt et al., 1995; Van Vugt et al., 1996). The “Might versus Morality Effect” provides a clear example of how social motives influence not only choice behavior but also the interpretation of behavior. Liebrand et al. (1986) examined the relationship between social motives and interpretations of cooperative and competitive behavior. They found that people with individualist social motives tend to interpret behavior along the might dimension (what works), whereas cooperators tend to view cooperation and competition as varying on the moral dimension (what is good or bad). Moreover, prosocials view rationality in social dilemmas from the perspective of the collective (community, group-level), whereas proself people may view it more from a perspective of individual rationality (egocentrically). Van Lange et al. (1990:36) argue that “if one accepts the idea that a perceiver’s own goal or predisposition affects his/her choice and also indicates the perspective (collective or individualistic) taken on rationality, it follows that attributions to intelligence should be determined by the combination of the target’s choice and the subject’s own choice. Thus, social motives may relate not only to differences in choice behavior but also to different perceptions of rationality and intelligence. Van Lange and colleagues (1990) confirmed that cooperators make larger distinctions between cooperative and noncooperative people than do competitors when making attributions about their behavior on a scale that measures “concern for others.” Both cooperators and defectors (noncooperative people) agreed that cooperation is more related to concern for others than noncooperation. In three N-person prisoners’ dilemma games (varying in the extent to which fear and greed could be the cause of noncooperation), they compared causal attributions made by cooperative versus noncooperative people. Following each game, participants were asked to make causal interpretations of cooperative and noncooperative choices performed by two imaginary target people (one was a cooperative person, the other was noncooperative). Their findings suggested that cooperators
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The Drama of the Commons (participants who made cooperative choices in the prisoners’ dilemma) were more likely than defectors to attribute cooperation to intelligence, whereas defectors were more likely than cooperators to attribute noncooperation to intelligence. Van Lange and Liebrand (1991) specifically tested whether individual differences in social motives influence perceptions of rationality in social dilemmas. They manipulated the perception of another person in terms of intelligence in a public goods dilemma. The findings supported their prediction that prosocial individuals expected more cooperation from an intelligent than an unintelligent person, while competitors expected significantly more cooperative behavior from an unintelligent other than an intelligent one. Van Lange and Kuhlman (1994) evaluated whether social motives influence how information about others is interpreted. In this experiment, people with different social motives made different interpretations of a commons dilemma. Impressions of honesty or intelligence, as well as fairness and self-interest, fell in line with the might versus morality perspective. Cooperative individuals assigned greater weight to honesty than did individualist and competitive participants, while individualists and competitors placed greater weight on intelligence than prosocial participants. Similarly, Samuelson (1993) found systematic differences between cooperators and noncooperators in the importance they assign to dimensions of fairness and self-interest in resource dilemmas. Cooperators assigned greater weight to a fairness dimension, whereas noncooperators assigned greater weight to a self-interest dimension. Another dimension that may relate to social motives is culture. People from collectivist cultures—cultures that view the self as interdependent with others— behave cooperatively with members of their own group and competitively with members of an out-group, whereas people from individualist cultures—cultures in which the self is perceived as an independent entity—focus less on the social environment and are more task oriented, focusing on their individual goals (Hofstede, 1980; Leung, 1997; Schwartz, 1994; Triandis, 1989). The relationship between culture and social motives is not as straightforward. In a study using an intergroup prisoners’ dilemma, Probst and colleagues (1999) found that cultural values of individualism versus collectivism and social motives measured superficially similar constructs. However, the correlations between these measures were low and the authors caution against assuming overlap. Gaerling (1999) found that social motives are related to some cultural values but not to others. Prosocial individuals scored significantly higher on measures of universalism (a cultural value that relates to equality, social justice, and solidarity) but not on benevolence (a cultural value that relates to inner harmony, friendship, good relations, being liked, and security). Because culture is a complex group-level phenomenon, it may not map on directly to measures of individual differences such as social motives. Researchers are only now beginning to focus on the influence of culture on social dilemmas (Kopelman and Brett, in press). The main conclusions that may be drawn from the research on social motives
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The Drama of the Commons is that prosocials who tend to view rationality in collective terms are more likely to cooperate in commons dilemmas than proselves who tend to view rationality in individual terms. Prosocials tend to think of cooperation as moral and of competition as immoral, while proselves tend to think of competition as effective and cooperation as less so. Both prosocials and proselves think that their own preferred strategy is more intelligent. Gender Not much research has focused on gender in resource dilemmas. There seems to be a weak but reliable relationship between gender and social motives such that the percentage of prosocials (cooperators) is slightly higher among women than men, while that of proselves (individualists and competitors) is higher among men (e.g., Van Lange et al., 1997). A recent meta-analysis on gender and negotiator competitiveness also found a slight tendency for women to appear more cooperative than men in negotiations (Walters et al., 1998). Some experiments on gender differences and social dilemmas have been conducted using the public goods paradigm, but findings are contradictory. Gender may influence cooperation because men and women respond differently to one another in group interactions and discussions (Stockard et al., 1988), because they differ in understanding and reacting to each other’s actions (Cadsby and Maynes, 1998), or because they respond differently to certain types of resources (Sell et al., 1993). In one study, when participating in four-person same-sex groups, men contributed to a public good at higher rates than women (Brown Kruse and Hummels, 1993). In contrast, another study found all-female groups were more cooperative than either all-male groups or mixed-gender groups (Nowell and Tinkler, 1994). Similarly, Stockard et al. (1988) found that in mixed groups, women were more likely to cooperate than men, especially when discussion among group members was permitted. Yet another study found that women initially contributed significantly more than men, but that the difference disappeared with subsequent trials (Cadsby and Maynes, 1998). Sell and colleagues (1993) found no influence of group gender composition on contributions to a public good, nor did they find a gender effect when money was the resource; however, when the resource was changed to time with an expert, men cooperated significantly more than women. These mixed findings suggest that gender may have an influence on cooperation in social dilemmas, but its effect may be small and variable. It may be that group diversity is more relevant than the specific gender composition. Research on minority opinions (Nemeth, 1986) and intragroup diversity (Gruenfeld et al., 1996; Williams and O’Reilly, 1998) in decision making suggests that divergence of opinion about the task—task conflict, in contrast to relationship conflict (Jehn, 1995)—leads to better decisions and thus also could influence the development of norms for cooperation in social dilemmas.
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The Drama of the Commons Decision Structure of the Task Payoff Structure Historically, experimental research on social dilemmas of all kinds has demonstrated significant effects attributable to changes in the “payoff structure” underlying a situation. What are the payoffs associated with cooperation or defection? What are the risks associated with different choices? The influence of payoff structures has been demonstrated not only in the laboratory, but also in the field (Van Lange et al., 1992b). Although emphasis most often has been placed on the monetary payoff structure in experimental games, the present review considers a broader array of structural factors that affect individuals’ choices. Central to popular and psychological understandings of behavior is the notion that behaviors generally are more likely to be exhibited when rewarded, and less likely to be exhibited when punished. The central question in any given situation is what combination or form of rewards and punishments (sanctions) will yield optimal or desirable results. A number of recent studies have offered new insights that may be applied productively to the development of better commons management techniques. Gachter and Fehr (1999) moved beyond the familiar experimental manipulation of material economic rewards or punishments to examine the effect of social rewards on people’s willingness to contribute to public goods. They were specifically interested in whether social rewards alone could overcome free-rider problems. First, the investigators conducted a questionnaire study. The questionnaire results confirmed that participants “expect [to] receive more approval if they contribute more, and less approval if others contribute more. In addition, they expect higher marginal approval gains if others contribute more” (p. 346). In the main study, participants faced a public goods dilemma in one of four conditions: (1) an anonymous condition in which participants never knew who they were playing with; (2) a “social exchange” condition in which participants had an opportunity to interact after the game; (3) a “group identity” condition in which participants met one another before playing, but knew they would not see one another afterwards; and (4) a combination of conditions 2 and 3 in which participants met ahead of time, and had a chance to interact afterwards. Neither social familiarity (condition 3) nor the opportunity to receive social rewards in the form of expressions of appreciation after the fact (condition 2) improved the level of cooperation relative to the baseline anonymous condition. However, the combination of the two (condition 4) resulted in significantly higher levels of contribution. Gachter and Fehr (1999:361-362) conclude that “social approval has a rather weak and insignificant positive effect on participation in collective actions if subjects are complete strangers. Yet, if the social distance between subjects is somewhat reduced by allowing the creation of a group identity and of forming weak social ties, approval incentives give rise to a large and significant reduction in
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The Drama of the Commons free-riding.” They go on to suggest that group identity effects may act as a facilitating “lubricant” for social exchange. It is important to note that there remained, even in the combined condition 4, a minority of participants who seemed unmotivated by social approval and willing to exploit the end-game round. A consistent finding in the gaming literature is that cooperation drops off as the end of the interaction draws near. Although many real-world commons dilemmas are related to resources that parties want to last indefinitely, a similar effect is likely to arise when a given party or parties sees an end to their interest in the commons, and therefore, the relationships that attend its management. Nonetheless, consistent with findings described elsewhere in this chapter, the effectiveness of social rewards in reducing free riding and increasing cooperation is enhanced by reductions in social distance and the facilitation of group identity. Bell et al. (1989) offer a unique solution to the problem of overconsumption: Let consumers steal from one another. The investigators ran an experiment with a 3 (probability of punishment for stealing) × 3 (probability of punishment for overconsumption) design. The levels of probability for each factor were zero percent (control), 25 percent (low), and 75 percent (high). The punishment in both cases was a loss of points. In each round of play, participants could harvest from the common resource pool, or they could steal from the other players. The results suggest that increasing the probability of punishment for a behavior has a significant deterrence effect; there were main effects for punishment of both behaviors. However, “punishment of one behavior increased the occurrence of the selfish alternative” (p. 1483). If the probability of punishment for overconsumption increased, so did the likelihood of stealing from neighbors. If the probability of punishment for stealing from neighbors increased, so did the likelihood of overconsumption. “To summarize, in the commons simulation, punishment for overconsumption reduced overconsumption, helped preserve the commons, but increased stealing. Punishment of stealing deterred stealing, promoted depletion of the commons and increased oveconsumption” (p. 1495). Of course, in the real world more than one kind and level of reinforcer is operational at any given time. “Poaching wildlife, for example, may involve perceived rewards of food and hides, perceived thrill of the hunting experience, risk of being caught and punished, potential inconvenience, as well as depletion of the resource, among other consequences” (Bell et al., 1989:1491). Understanding the interplay of such factors is clearly a complex task that is, at least to some extent, unique to any given context. The Bell et al. (1989) findings also should be read with an understanding that their experimental framework made stealing a highly public act. Although there are real-world analogues (e.g., parking in a handicapped parking spot), the majority of resource theft is done under the assumption that detection is improbable. Although their experiment fixed the probabilities of punishment regardless of an offense’s public nature, whether the potential for secret theft under the same probability conditions would yield different behaviors is an open empirical question. Cer-
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The Drama of the Commons relates directly to the question of efficacy: Can we make a difference? The literature on self-efficacy that we have reviewed indicates that McCay is absolutely correct to see an affirmative answer to her question as an important determinant of whether or not people mobilize. McCay also argues that communication and persuasion are important for mobilizing people. We would add that experimental lab research on communication suggests that the elicitation of commitments from the parties involved is likely to have the greatest impact. Similarly, experimental work on the nature of decision structures and power may be of use in further specifying what parts of the macro-institutional structures identified are of greatest interest in understanding mobilization. It may be complemented by a model of “structural change in resource dilemmas” that was proposed based on earlier studies in the experimental literature (Samuelson and Messick, 1995). Social Heterogeneity A question that has sparked opposing theoretical perspectives in the broader literature on commons dilemmas is whether socioeconomic heterogeneity leads to cooperation or hinders it. Bardhan and Dayton-Johnson (this volume:Chapter 3), who focus on economic heterogeneity in large-scale studies of locally managed irrigation systems, find support for the latter—heterogeneity hinders cooperation. As Bardhan and Dayton-Johnson note, other types of heterogeneity (social, ethnic, and cultural) may also play an important role. Some research we surveyed on gender composition of groups points out that such group heterogeneity can influence cooperation, although the direction of influence demands further specification of relevant contingencies. One way to narrow the gap between laboratory and local common-pool resource dilemmas is by actually conducting experiments in the field. An excellent example is an experiment conducted by Cardenas (2000:4) that focused on the influence of economic heterogeneity: “[I]nstead of introducing these effects [economic heterogeneity] artificially through experimental institutions or incentives, and instead of attempting to avoid these factors to enter the experimental design as noise, we accounted for such information that people may bring into the field lab, and analyzed it against the experimental behavior and outcomes.” Rather than bringing participants to an experimental lab, this study took the experimental lab to a community (several villages in Colombia). Similar to other findings reported by Bardhan and Dayton-Johnson (this volume:Chapter 3), economic heterogeneity decreased cooperation. The Scale of the Dilemma Social heterogeneity may be especially salient in cross-national dilemmas where members of different cultures come together to solve commons dilemmas.
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The Drama of the Commons These may translate not only into differences in cultural values and norms at the group level, but as Young (this volume:Chapter 8) points out, international regimes also operate in social settings that feature a substantial amount of institutional heterogeneity. Decisions at this international level are complicated further by the tensions involved in shifting vertically to national levels of authority. Young describes how implementation of such agreements may vary due to differences in competence, compatibility, and capacity of national governments. The experimental literature would point out another hurdle: The chore of implementing international agreements often becomes fragmented among different subgroups, potentially turning the resource dilemma structurally from an intragroup to an intergroup conflict. Changing the paradigm to an intergroup dilemma changes the incentives and behavior of people in social dilemmas (Bornstein, 1992). Changes along levels of analysis become especially relevant when designing experiments because variables influencing cooperation may not have the same effect when evaluated in small-scale versus large-scale commons situations. A recent chapter by Biel (2000) discusses similarities and differences between factors promoting cooperation when evaluated (1) in a laboratory environment; (2) in small-scale communal property regimes; and (3) in large-scale societal dilemmas. For example, social norms of reciprocity and commitment may not play as key a role in large-scale dilemmas where the social group is intangible and face-to-face communication is unlikely. On the other hand, environmental uncertainty is likely to play a much larger role because the resources involved in large-scale dilemmas are often less visible (e.g., air pollution) and less quantifiable (e.g., oceans). When evaluating differences across scales, it is important to note whether the characteristics of the resource and/or the complexity of institutional arrangements may account for these differences. Rose (this volume:Chapter 7) offers a significant real-world example that fleshes out the different structural solutions that may be effective in large-scale dilemmas versus smaller scale common property regimes. As she points out, real-world commons dilemmas occur in complex, dynamic systems in which disagreement over the truth of “facts” must be expected. Some level of uncertainty is the norm. Small communities have developed complex rules and norms that protect the resource as well as the interests of the local community by providing barriers of entry. Developing similar mechanisms in large-scale market regimes is challenging in that instituting a system of tradable environmental allowances that create a level of certainty around the rights that such allowances convey is not a trivial task. Will they be durable rights? Will the volume of entitlement associated with each allowance remain constant? In facing this challenge it is both valuable to understand the predictable ways uncertainty affects individual actors, and to appreciate the positive impact reductions in uncertainty can have on cooperation in commons dilemmas.
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The Drama of the Commons Environmental Uncertainty Both lab and field studies have pointed to the importance of reducing uncertainty to promote cooperation on both individual and organizational levels. Research we reviewed highlights how environmental uncertainty increases harvesting behavior by individual decision makers. Wilson (this volume:Chapter 10) points out that better institutions for managing the commons can be designed, but that this requires a paradigmatic shift in the way that environmental uncertainty is approached. From the perspective of institutional design, the goal is to create the circumstances under which the average user views restraint as rational. Wilson suggests that the reductionist scientific approach, which has dominated the field, needs to incorporate complex, dynamic, and adaptive processes (like oceans and weather patterns). In such “complex adaptive systems,” cause and effect relationships are weakened and predictability decreases. A Final Word A dynamic dialogue between experimentalists and field researchers can yield fruitful results for both. Qualitative research is key to developing rich models that can be subjected to experimental testing and controlled decomposition, which can in turn offer insight for future theoretical model development and field-based interventions. Agrawal’s review (this volume:Chapter 2) of the traditional, largely case-based literature on common-pool resources points at a substantial overlap between lab and field studies both in terms of the choice of variables studied and their implications. Readers of his review should find striking parallels with the findings reported in this chapter on issues ranging from group size to sanctions and the significance of communication and a sense of efficacy. Agrawal (this volume:Chapter 2) identifies the importance of employing a “careful research design that controls for factors that are not the subject of investigation” (p. 65). This is exactly what the experimental approach has to offer. The strength of the experimental method is that by isolating variables, it enables social scientists to pit theoretical concepts against one another and establish causal linkages. NOTES 1 In this first book (published in the middle of the 18th century, a decade before his more famous book on the wealth of nations, his hypothesis is made clear early on: “However selfish man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles of his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it…” (Werhane, 1991:25). 2 A person is less likely to respond to an emergency situation when there are many bystanders than when that person thinks he or she is the only witness.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: