Rules, Rule-Following, and Cooperation

Rules are thought to persist to the extent that the direct benefits of having them (e.g. reduced transactions costs) exceed the costs of enforcement and of occasional misapplications. We argue that a second crucial role of rules is as screening mechanisms for identifying cooperative types. Thus we underestimate the social value of rules when we consider only their instrumental value in solving a particular problem. We demonstrate experimentally that costly rule-following can be used to screen for conditional cooperators. Subjects participate in a rule-following task in which they may incur costs to follow an arbitrary written rule in an individual choice setting. Without their knowledge, we sort them into groups according to their willingness to follow the rule. These groups then play repeated public goods or trust games. Rule-following groups sustain high public goods contributions over time, but in rule-breaking groups cooperation decays. Rulefollowers also reciprocate more in trust games. However, when individuals are not sorted by type, we observe no differences in the behavior of rule-followers and rule-breakers.

Erik O. Kimbrough (Simon Fraser Unviersity) Alexander Vostroknutov (Maastricht University) URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:sfu:sfudps:dp12-15&r=exp

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Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

Rule-following groups sustain high public goods contributions over time, but in rule-breaking groups cooperation decays. Rulefollowers also reciprocate more in trust games. However, when individuals are not sorted by type, we observe no differences in the behavior of rule-followers and rule-breakers.

Does this mean that in a mixed group rule-followers optimise ‘down’ and rule-breakers optimise ‘up’?

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
9 years ago

Interesting paper but…

“To explain this tendency toward apparently incentive incompatible cooperation, the theory of kin selection demonstrates how, at least within kin groups, such cooperation may be sustained as a fitness maximizing strategy due to shared genetic material (Hamilton 1964). Among non-kin, such incentive problems become more difficult to solve.”

Sounds reasonable but contains the hidden assumption of all game theory literature: people are naturally selfish. If you assume they are not, that they are naturally cooperative, then incentive is uninteresting and the “problem of collective action” vanishes.

Kin selection is a fine explanation for animals but neither they nor we do blood tests to decide who to cooperate with. The people you regard as kin become kin for purposes of behaviour. That is down to upbringing—nurture, not nature.

The paper does have an approach in the right direction: type people. People come in types. Some people are selfish, some are not. Such type data are not collected. The exception is sex. There, experiments show men are a standard deviation more selfish than women. That isn’t the word used (game theorists are all men) but rather women are a standard deviation more cooperative. The subtext is: women are a s.d. more irrational since the only rational attitude is selfishness.

Over nearly two generations, game theory has produced nothing substantial. It has done what the other social sciences have done: developed a mountain of mutually congratulatory, mutually promoting literature.

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[…] can and do co-operate, of course. We have choices. But we choose not to exercise them, in a framework where “natural” is seen as dangerous […]

Julie Thomas
Julie Thomas
9 years ago

“Over nearly two generations, game theory has produced nothing substantial. It has done what the other social sciences have done: developed a mountain of mutually congratulatory, mutually promoting literature.”

My favourite poly-math physicist blogger Steve Hsu says that there is something new in game theory. It’s taking me a while to understand what this new thing is – not good at that type of thinking – but it seems exciting especially for the evopsychs.

Steve says:
“The two-player Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma game is a model for both sentient and evolutionary behaviors, especially including the emergence of cooperation. It is generally assumed that there exists no simple ultimatum strategy whereby one player can enforce a unilateral claim to an unfair share of rewards. Here, we show that such strategies unexpectedly do exist. In particular, a player X who is witting of these strategies can (i) deterministically set her opponent Y’s score, independently of his strategy or response, or (ii) enforce an extortionate linear relation between her and his scores. Against such a player, an evolutionary player’s best response is to accede to the extortion. Only a player with a theory of mind about his opponent can do better, in which case Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma is an Ultimatum Game.”

http://infoproc.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/iterated-prisoners-dilemma-is-ultimatum.html#disqus_thread