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Social Norms and the Evolution of Conditional Cooperation


  • Spichtig, Mathias
  • Traxler, Christian


This paper develops a model of social norms and cooperation in large societies. Within this framework we use an indirect evolutionary approach to study the endogenous formation of preferences and the coevolution of norm compliance. Thereby we link the multiplicity of equilibria, which emerges in the presence of social norms, to the evolutionary analysis: Individuals face situations where many others cooperate as well as situations where a majority free-rides. The evolutionary adaptation to such heterogenous environments will favor conditional cooperators, who condition their pro-social behavior on the others' cooperation. As conditional cooperators react flexibly to their social environment, they dominate free-riders as well as unconditional cooperators.

Suggested Citation

  • Spichtig, Mathias & Traxler, Christian, 2007. "Social Norms and the Evolution of Conditional Cooperation," Discussion Papers in Economics 1398, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:lmu:muenec:1398

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Assar Lindbeck & Sten Nyberg & Jörgen W. Weibull, 1999. "Social Norms and Economic Incentives in the Welfare State," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 1-35.
    2. Keser, Claudia & van Winden, Frans, 2000. " Conditional Cooperation and Voluntary Contributions to Public Goods," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 102(1), pages 23-39, March.
    3. Hirshlifer, David & Rassmusen, Eric, 1989. "Cooperation in a repeated prisoners' dilemma with ostracism," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 12(1), pages 87-106, August.
    4. Guth, Werner, 1995. "An Evolutionary Approach to Explaining Cooperative Behavior by Reciprocal Incentives," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 24(4), pages 323-344.
    5. Friederike Mengel, 2006. "A Model Of Immigration, Integration And Cultural Transmission Of Social Norms," Working Papers. Serie AD 2006-08, Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Económicas, S.A. (Ivie).
    6. David Masclet & Charles Noussair & Steven Tucker & Marie-Claire Villeval, 2003. "Monetary and Nonmonetary Punishment in the Voluntary Contributions Mechanism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(1), pages 366-380, March.
    7. Rachel Croson & Jen Shang, 2006. "Field experiments in charitable contribution: The impact of social influence on the voluntary provision of public goods," Natural Field Experiments 00323, The Field Experiments Website.
    8. Bruno S. Frey & Stephan Meier, 2004. "Social Comparisons and Pro-social Behavior: Testing "Conditional Cooperation" in a Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1717-1722, December.
    9. Richard Martin & John Randal, 2005. "Voluntary contributions to a public good: A natural field experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00306, The Field Experiments Website.
    10. Mari Rege, 2004. "Social Norms and Private Provision of Public Goods," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 6(1), pages 65-77, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Konow, James, 2010. "Mixed feelings: Theories of and evidence on giving," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(3-4), pages 279-297, April.
    2. Dong, Bin & Dulleck, Uwe & Torgler, Benno, 2012. "Conditional corruption," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 609-627.

    More about this item


    Conditional Cooperation; Indirect Evolution; Social Norms; Heterogenous Environments;

    JEL classification:

    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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