Resentment and the Evolution of Cooperative Norms

43 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2020 Last revised: 11 Nov 2021

See all articles by Xueheng Li

Xueheng Li

Economics Experimental Lab, Nanjing Audit University

Date Written: January 2, 2020


Sociologists and psychologists have long argued that emotions are essential to sustain social norms. We propose a model of cooperative norms based on the belief-dependent emotion of resentment—a notion distilled from a set of social emotions. We study the conditions under which a cooperative norm is more likely to emerge and persist than a defection norm in a stochastically dynamic model that tracks individuals' beliefs. We show that, in contrast to the prediction of previous evolutionary models, cooperation is not higher in a fixed neighborhood structure than in global interactions. Rather, mobility facilitates the emergence and stability of a cooperative norm. Consequently, positive correlations emerge among mobility, community size, cooperation level, and the punishment of defectors. Recent experimental and cross-cultural studies support our results.

Keywords: Social norms, cooperation, costly punishment, stochastic dynamics, stochastic stability, psychological game

JEL Classification: C73, D63, H41

Suggested Citation

Li, Xueheng, Resentment and the Evolution of Cooperative Norms (January 2, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Xueheng Li (Contact Author)

Economics Experimental Lab, Nanjing Audit University ( email )

86 Yushan W Rd
Pukou, Jiangsu 210017

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