Think Global, Act Local: Preserving the Global Commons
50 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2016 Last revised: 28 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 27, 2016
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: Suggested Citation