The Transmission of Sustainable Harvesting Norms When Agents are Conditionally Cooperative

33 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2013

Date Written: October 1, 2013


Experimental and observational studies have highlighted the importance of agents being conditionally cooperative when facing a social dilemma. We formalize this mechanism in a theoretical model that portrays a small community having joint access to a common pool resource. The diffusion of norms of cooperation takes place via interpersonal relations, while individual agents face the temptation of higher profits by overexploiting the resource. Agents remain conditionally cooperative, unless other individuals are misbehaving already. We can observe a bubble of conditional cooperators slowly building up followed by a sudden burst, which means that a transition from a cooperative social norm to non-cooperation occurs. Interestingly, in some parameter regions alternative stable states and limit cycles arise. The latter implies that the same community goes through such a transition repeatedly over long time spans – history thus repeats itself in the form of the creation and erosion of social capital.

Keywords: Common Pool Resource, Conditional Cooperators, Social-Ecological Complexity, Social Capital, Social Norms

JEL Classification: C73, D70, D64, Q20

Suggested Citation

Richter, Andries and Grasman, Johan, The Transmission of Sustainable Harvesting Norms When Agents are Conditionally Cooperative (October 1, 2013). FEEM Working Paper No. 80.2013. Available at SSRN: or

Andries Richter (Contact Author)

University of Oslo ( email )

PO Box 6706 St Olavs plass
Oslo, N-0317

Johan Grasman

Wageningen University ( email )

Hollandseweg 1
Wageningen, 6706KN

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