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Reciprocity: weak or strong? What punishment experiments do (and do not) demonstrate

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  • Francesco GUALA

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Abstract

Strong Reciprocity theorists claim that cooperation in social dilemma games can be sustained by costly punishment mechanisms that eliminate incentives to free ride, even in one-shot and finitely repeated games. There is little doubt that costly punishment raises cooperation in laboratory conditions. Its efficacy in the field however is controversial. I distinguish two interpretations of experimental results, and show that the wide interpretation endorsed by Strong Reciprocity theorists is unsupported by ethnographic evidence on decentralised punishment and by historical evidence on common pool institutions. The institutions that spontaneously evolve to solve dilemmas of cooperation typically exploit low-cost mechanisms, turning finite games into indefinitely repeated ones and eliminating the cost of sanctioning.

Suggested Citation

  • Francesco GUALA, 2010. "Reciprocity: weak or strong? What punishment experiments do (and do not) demonstrate," Departmental Working Papers 2010-23, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
  • Handle: RePEc:mil:wpdepa:2010-23
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    File URL: http://wp.demm.unimi.it/files/wp/2010/DEMM-2010_023wp.pdf
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    Cited by:

    1. Faillo, Marco & Grieco, Daniela & Zarri, Luca, 2012. "Cultural Diversity, Cooperation,and Anti-social Punishment," AICCON Working Papers 102-2012, Associazione Italiana per la Cultura della Cooperazione e del Non Profit.
    2. Dirk Engelmann & Nikos Nikiforakis, 2015. "In the long-run we are all dead: on the benefits of peer punishment in rich environments," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 45(3), pages 561-577, October.
    3. Balafoutas, Loukas & Nikiforakis, Nikos, 2012. "Norm enforcement in the city: A natural field experiment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(8), pages 1773-1785.
    4. Ananish Chaudhuri, 2011. "Sustaining cooperation in laboratory public goods experiments: a selective survey of the literature," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 14(1), pages 47-83, March.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Experiments; Cooperation; Punishment; Evolution;

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • Z1 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics

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