Think Global, Act Local: Preserving the Global Commons

50 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2016 Last revised: 28 Apr 2016

See all articles by Oliver Hauser

Oliver Hauser

University of Exeter Business School - Department of Economics; Harvard University

Achim Hendriks

Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Business and Economics

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Martin Nowak

Harvard University

Date Written: April 27, 2016

Abstract

Preserving global public goods, such as the planet’s ecosystem, depends on large-scale cooperation, which is difficult to achieve because the standard reciprocity mechanisms weaken in large groups. Here we demonstrate a method by which reciprocity can maintain cooperation in a large-scale public goods game (PGG). In a first experiment, participants in groups of on average 39 people play one round of a Prisoner's Dilemma (PD) with their two nearest neighbours on a cyclic network after each PGG round. We observe that people engage in “local-to-global” reciprocity, leveraging local interactions to enforce global cooperation: Participants reduce PD cooperation with neighbours who contribute little in the PGG. In response, low PGG contributors increase their contributions if both of their neighbours defect on them in the PD. In a control condition, participants do not know their neighbours' PGG contribution and thus cannot link play in the PD to the PGG. In the control we observe a sharp decline of cooperation in the PGG, while in the treatment condition high levels of global cooperation are maintained. In a second experiment, we demonstrate the scalability of this effect: in a 1,000-person PGG, participants in the treatment condition successfully sustain public contributions. Our findings suggest that this simple and scalable “local-to-global” intervention facilitates large-scale cooperation.

Keywords: cooperation, local-to-global reciprocity, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Public Goods Game

JEL Classification: H40, H41, D70, C92, C72

Suggested Citation

Hauser, Oliver and Hendriks, Achim and Rand, David G. and Nowak, Martin, Think Global, Act Local: Preserving the Global Commons (April 27, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2722407 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2722407

Oliver Hauser (Contact Author)

University of Exeter Business School - Department of Economics ( email )

Streatham Court
Exeter, EX4 4RJ
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.oliverhauser.org

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.hauseroliver.com

Achim Hendriks

Universität Osnabrück - Faculty of Business and Economics ( email )

Rolandstr. 8
Osnabrueck, D-49069
Germany

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.daverand.org

Martin Nowak

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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