IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Dissertation abstract: A status theory of collective action

Listed author(s):
  • Robb Willer


Registered author(s):

    The “collective action problem” describes situations where each person in a group can individually profit more by withholding contributions to group goals. However, if all act in their material self-interest no public good is produced and all are worse off. I present a new solution to the collective action problem based on status. I argue that contributions to collective action increase an individual’s status in the group because contributions create perceptions of high group motivation, defined as the relative value an individual places on group versus individual welfare. Individuals are predicted to receive a variety of social and material benefits for their contributions to the group. These rewards can help explain why individuals contribute to collective action. Four laboratory studies tested the theory. In Study 1, following interaction in a 6-person public goods game, participants reported viewing higher contributors as more group motivated and higher status. Higher contributors also wielded more interpersonal influence in task interactions with participants. Participants also cooperated with higher contributors more, and allocated greater altruism to them in a Dictator game. Study 2 addressed an exchange-theoretic alternative explanation for the findings of Study 1, showing that observers of collective action who did not benefit from higher contributors’ contributions to the public good, nonetheless rated them as higher status, cooperated with them more, and gave them greater altruistic gifts. These results show that collective action contributors can earn social and material benefits even outside the group. Study 3 more directly tested the mediating role of group motivation. Contributors who sacrificed a greater proportion of resources for the collective action were rated as more group motivated and higher status than a moderate proportional contributor, even though the amounts they contributed were the same. These findings support the theory, and underscore the significance of self-sacrifice in the acquisition of status in collective action. Study 4 investigated the effects of status rewards on contributors’ behavior towards and perceptions of the group. Participants who received positive status feedback for their contributions subsequently contributed more than those who did not. Rewarded participants also identified more with the group and saw it as having greater solidarity and cohesion. I conclude by discussing theoretical implications and future research. Copyright Economic Science Association 2007

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by Springer & Economic Science Association in its journal Experimental Economics.

    Volume (Year): 10 (2007)
    Issue (Month): 2 (June)
    Pages: 189-190

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:10:y:2007:i:2:p:189-190
    DOI: 10.1007/s10683-006-9150-0
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    Web page:;jsessionid=3F1701A870A8B0D3BDB91479792ADFA5

    More information through EDIRC

    Order Information: Web:

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:10:y:2007:i:2:p:189-190. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla)

    or (Rebekah McClure)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.