Intergroup Cooperation in Common Pool Resource Dilemmas

Science and Engineering Ethics 21 (5):1197-1215 (2015)
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Abstract

Fundamental problems of environmental sustainability, including climate change and fisheries management, require collective action on a scale that transcends the political and cultural boundaries of the nation-state. Rational, self-interested neoclassical economic theories of human behavior predict tragedy in the absence of third party enforcement of agreements and practical difficulties that prevent privatization. Evolutionary biology offers a theory of cooperation, but more often than not in a context of discrimination against other groups. That is, in-group boundaries are necessarily defined by those excluded as members of out-groups. However, in some settings human’s exhibit behavior that is inconsistent with both rational economic and group driven cooperation of evolutionary biological theory. This paper reports the results of a non-cooperative game-theoretic exercise that models a tragedy of the commons problem in which groups of players may advance their own positions only at the expense of other groups. Students enrolled from multiple universities and assigned to different multi-university identity groups participated in experiments that repeatedly resulted in cooperative outcomes despite intergroup conflicts and expressions of group identity. We offer three possible explanations: students were cooperative because they were in an academic setting; students may have viewed their instructors as the out-group; or the emergence of a small number of influential, ethical leaders is sufficient to ensure cooperation amongst the larger groups. From our data and analysis, we draw out lessons that may help to inform approaches for institutional design and policy negotiations, particularly in climate change management

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Evan Selinger
Rochester Institute of Technology

References found in this work

Thinking, Fast and Slow.Daniel Kahneman - 2011 - New York: New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
On Human Nature.Edward O. Wilson - 1978 - Harvard University Press.
The Tragedy of the Commons.Garrett Hardin - 1968 - Science 162 (3859):1243-1248.
The descent of man.Charles Darwin - 1874 - Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books. Edited by Michael T. Ghiselin.

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