Contagious Cooperation, Temptation, and Ecosystem Collapse

51 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2013

See all articles by Andries Richter

Andries Richter

University of Oslo

Daan van Soest

Tilburg University - CentER & Department of Economics

Johan Grasman

Wageningen University

Date Written: April 24, 2013


Real world observations suggest that social norms of cooperation can be effective in overcoming social dilemmas such as the joint management of a common pool resource – but also that they can be subject to slow erosion and sudden collapse. We show that these patterns of erosion and collapse emerge endogenously in a model of a closed community harvesting a renewable natural resource in which individual agents face the temptation to overexploit the resource, while a cooperative harvesting norm spreads through the community via interpersonal relations. We analyze under what circumstances small changes in key parameters (including the size of the community, and the rate of technological progress) trigger catastrophic transitions from relatively high levels of cooperation to widespread norm violation – causing the social-ecological system to collapse.

Keywords: Social Norms, Common Pool Resource, Co-Evolution, Resilience, Alternative Stable States

JEL Classification: C73, D62, D64, Q20

Suggested Citation

Richter, Andries and van Soest, Daan P. and Grasman, Johan, Contagious Cooperation, Temptation, and Ecosystem Collapse (April 24, 2013). FEEM Working Paper No. 36.2013. Available at SSRN: or

Andries Richter (Contact Author)

University of Oslo ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavs plass
Oslo, N-0317

Daan P. Van Soest

Tilburg University - CentER & Department of Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 90153
5000 LE Tilburg
+31 13 466 2072 (Phone)

Johan Grasman

Wageningen University ( email )

Hollandseweg 1
Wageningen, 6706KN

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