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Cooperation preferences in the provision of public goods: An experimental study on the effects of social identity

  • Lankau, Matthias
  • Bicskei, Marianna
  • Bizer, Kilian

Traditionally economic theory assumes that preferences are stable facilitating positive predictions of economic policy. While there is conflicting experimental evidence on the temporal stability of cooperation preferences in public goods provision, surprisingly little is known about their stability in different institutional settings. We contribute to this literature by testing whether social identity impacts on cooperation preferences in public goods provision. Specifically, our experiment features a within subject design based on one shot public good games in strategy method, which are carried out in random, in and out group matching protocols. Our findings indicate that cooperation preferences are not stable across these matching circumstances. Quite to the contrary, we find that when matched with in group members, subjects consistently show the preference for higher levels of conditional cooperation and thus less self serving bias than in out group matching. Additionally, while the probability to be a conditional cooperator remains stable under each treatment, we identify an elevated propensity to be a free rider when matched with individuals of a different identity. These results indicate that it can be reasonable to devise policy institutions that strengthen the feeling of belonging to a particular group in order to enhance social welfare.

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Paper provided by University of Goettingen, Department of Economics in its series Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers with number 148.

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Date of creation: 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:zbw:cegedp:148
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  1. Eckel, Catherine C. & Grossman, Philip J., 2005. "Managing diversity by creating team identity," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 58(3), pages 371-392, November.
  2. Jeanette Brosig & Thomas Riechmann & Joachim Weimann, 2007. "Selfish in the end? An investigation of consistency and stability of individual behaviour," FEMM Working Papers 07005, Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Faculty of Economics and Management.
  3. Lorenz Goette & David Huffman & Stephan Meier, 2006. "The Impact of Group Membership on Cooperation and Norm Enforcement: Evidence Using Random Assignment to Real Social Groups," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 212-216, May.
  4. Urs Fischbacher & Simon Gaechter, 2009. "Social Preferences, Beliefs, and the Dynamics of Free Riding in Public Good Experiments," Discussion Papers 2009-04, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
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  8. Urs Fischbacher & Simon Gaechter & Ernst Fehr, . "Are People Conditionally Cooperative? Evidence from a Public Goods Experiment," IEW - Working Papers 016, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  9. Volk, Stefan & Thoeni, Christian & Ruigrok, Winfried, 2011. "Temporal stability and psychological foundations of cooperation preferences," Economics Working Paper Series 1101, University of St. Gallen, School of Economics and Political Science.
  10. Blanco, Mariana & Engelmann, Dirk & Normann, Hans Theo, 2011. "A within-subject analysis of other-regarding preferences," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 321-338, June.
  11. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
  12. Ananish Chaudhuri, 2011. "Sustaining cooperation in laboratory public goods experiments: a selective survey of the literature," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 14(1), pages 47-83, March.
  13. Solow, John L. & Kirkwood, Nicole, 2002. "Group identity and gender in public goods experiments," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 48(4), pages 403-412, August.
  14. Roy Chen & Yan Chen, 2011. "The Potential of Social Identity for Equilibrium Selection," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(6), pages 2562-89, October.
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  16. Gary Charness & Luca Rigotti & Aldo Rustichini, 2007. "Individual Behavior and Group Membership," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(4), pages 1340-1352, September.
  17. McLeish, Kendra N. & Oxoby, Robert J., 2007. "Identity, Cooperation, and Punishment," IZA Discussion Papers 2572, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  18. Karla Hoff & Priyanka Pandey, 2006. "Discrimination, Social Identity, and Durable Inequalities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 206-211, May.
  19. Sergio Currarini & Friederike Menge, 2012. "Identity, Homophily and In-Group Bias," Working Papers 2012.37, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
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