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Social learning and voluntary cooperation among like-minded people


  • Simon Gächter


  • Christian Thöni



Many people contribute to public goods but stop doing so once they experience free riding. We test the hypothesis that groups whose members know that they are composed only of ‘like-minded’ cooperators are able to maintain a higher cooperation level than the most cooperative, randomly-composed groups. Our experiments confirm this hypothesis. We also predict that groups of ‘like-minded’ free riders do not cooperate. Yet, we find a high level of strategic cooperation that eventually collapses. Our results underscore the importance of group composition and social learning by heterogeneously motivated agents to understand the dynamics of cooperation and free riding.

Suggested Citation

  • Simon Gächter & Christian Thöni, 2004. "Social learning and voluntary cooperation among like-minded people," University of St. Gallen Department of Economics working paper series 2004 2004-12, Department of Economics, University of St. Gallen.
  • Handle: RePEc:usg:dp2004:2004-12

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ghemawat, Pankaj, 1995. "Competitive Advantage and Internal Organization: Nucor Revisited," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 3(4), pages 685-717, Winter.
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    4. Selten, Reinhard & Stoecker, Rolf, 1986. "End behavior in sequences of finite Prisoner's Dilemma supergames A learning theory approach," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 47-70, March.
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    6. Simon Gachter & Ernst Fehr, 2000. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 980-994, September.
    7. Esther Hauk & Rosemarie Nagel, 2000. "Choice of partners in multiple two-person prisoner's dilemma games: An experimental study," Economics Working Papers 487, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
    8. Ones, Umut & Putterman, Louis, 2007. "The ecology of collective action: A public goods and sanctions experiment with controlled group formation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 62(4), pages 495-521, April.
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    11. Ockenfels, Axel & Weimann, Joachim, 1999. "Types and patterns: an experimental East-West-German comparison of cooperation and solidarity," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(2), pages 275-287, February.
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    More about this item


    Public goods; social learning; conditional cooperation; free riding; experiments;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games


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