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When Do We Learn to Cooperate? The Role of Social Learning in Social Dilemmas


  • James A. Best



In this paper, I look at the interaction between social learning and cooperative behavior. I model this using a social dilemma game with publicly observed sequential actions and asymmetric information about payoffs. I find that some informed agents in this model act, individually and without collusion, to conceal the privately optimal action. Because the privately optimal action is socially costly the behavior of informed agents can lead to a Pareto improvement in a social dilemma. In my model I show that it is possible to get cooperative behavior if information is restricted to a small but non-zero proportion of the population. Moreover, such cooperative behavior occurs in a finite setting where it is public knowledge which agent will act last. The proportion of cooperative agents within the population can be made arbitrarily close to 1 by increasing the finite number of agents playing the game. Finally, I show that under a broad set of conditions that it is a Pareto improvement on a corner value, in the ex-ante welfare sense, for an interior proportion of the population to be informed.

Suggested Citation

  • James A. Best, 2011. "When Do We Learn to Cooperate? The Role of Social Learning in Social Dilemmas," ESE Discussion Papers 206, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  • Handle: RePEc:edn:esedps:206

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fuhito Kojima, 2007. "Matching and Price Competition: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(3), pages 1027-1031, June.
    2. Gianni De Fraja & Jozsef Sakovics, 2001. "Walras Retrouve: Decentralized Trading Mechanisms and the Competitive Price," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(4), pages 842-863, August.
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    4. Jeremy Bulow & Jonathan Levin, 2006. "Matching and Price Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 652-668, June.
    5. McAfee, R Preston, 1993. "Mechanism Design by Competing Sellers," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(6), pages 1281-1312, November.
    6. Diamond, Peter A., 1971. "A model of price adjustment," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 3(2), pages 156-168, June.
    7. Peters, Michael, 1991. "Ex Ante Price Offers in Matching Games Non-steady States," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(5), pages 1425-1454, September.
    8. Konishi, Hideo & Sapozhnikov, Margarita, 2008. "Decentralized matching markets with endogenous salaries," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 193-218, September.
    9. James D. Montgomery, 1991. "Equilibrium Wage Dispersion and Interindustry Wage Differentials," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(1), pages 163-179.
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    More about this item


    asymmetric information; cooperation; efficiency; social learning; social dilemmas;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness

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