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One step at a time: Does gradualism build coordination?

  • Sam Asher
  • Lorenzo Casaburi
  • Plamen Nikolov
  • Maoliang Ye

We study how gradualism -- increasing required levels ("thresholds") of contributions slowly over time rather than requiring a high level of contribution immediately -- affects individuals' decisions to contribute to a public project. Using a laboratory binary choice minimum-effort coordination game, we randomly assign participants to three treatments: starting and continuing at a high threshold, starting at a low threshold but jumping to a high threshold after a few periods, and starting at a low threshold and gradually increasing the threshold over time (the "gradualism" treatment). We find that individuals coordinate most successfully at the high threshold in the gradualism treatment relative to the other two groups. We propose a theory based on belief updating to explain why gradualism works. We also discuss alternative explanations such as reinforcement learning, conditional cooperation, inertia, preference for consistency, and limited attention. Our findings point to a simple, voluntary mechanism to promote successful coordination when the capacity to impose sanctions is limited.

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Paper provided by The Field Experiments Website in its series Framed Field Experiments with number 00188.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:feb:framed:00188
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