Making good cider out of bad apples: Signaling expectations boosts cooperation among would-be free riders

January 1, 2018

Michiru Nagatsu, Karen Larsen, Mia Karabegovic, Marcell Székely, Dan Mønster, John Michael

The present study investigates how group-cooperation heuristics boostsvoluntary contributions to public goods, in particular from individuals who otherwise prefer to free-ride. We manipulate two separate factors in a two-person public goods game: i) group composition (Selfish Subjects/Conditional Cooperators) and ii) common knowledge about group composition (Information/No Information). In addition, we let the subjects signal expectations of the other’s contributions in the second phase. Common knowledge of selfishtype alone slightly dampens contributions but dramatically increases contributions when signaling of expectations is allowed. The results suggest that group-cooperation heuristics is triggered when two factors are jointly salient to the agent: (i) that there is no one to free-ride on; and (ii) that the other wants to cooperate because of (i). We highlight the potential effectiveness of group-cooperation heuristics and propose solution thinkingas the schema of reasoning underlying the heuristics. The high correlation between expectations and actual contributions is compatible with the existence of default preference to satisfy others’ expectations (or to avoid disappointing them), but the stark end-game effect suggests that the group-cooperation heuristics,at least among selfish players, function ultimately to benefit material self-interest rather than to just please others.