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The Behavioral Ecology of Trust and Cooperation

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Low, Bobbi S.
Conference: Heterogeneity and Collective Action
Location: Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University
Conf. Date: October 14-17, 1993
Date: 1993
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1606
Sector: Theory
Subject(s): cooperation
Abstract: "Scholars in apparently disparate fields--e.g., economics, biology, political science --are currently converging in interest on the problem of cooperation. Competition among individuals over resources is virtually universal; cooperation among individuals (often in precisely the same context of resource competition) is rarer. The form of the resource is important: whether an individual or group can exclude competing individuals ('private goods,' Ostrom and Ostrom 1977; examples in biology are territorially, or the immediate consumption of small patches of resources); or whether the resource constitutes a commons. Bleak forecasts of over-exploitation due to individually-rational, group destructive behaviors are common. Yet there are two encouraging trends. First, there is some evidence that evolved selfishness can, perhaps, be harnessed in cooperatively useful ways. Second, cooperation does exist, and can be a powerful force. Recent work begins to delineate the conditions under which we expect more, rather than less, cooperative behavior in resource acquisition, and the conditions under which we predict longer-term (less discounting, less extractive) strategies of resource use. The problems are still complex, and exist at a variety of levels, from small communities to international. My purpose here is to step back from complex situations, and examine cooperation in non-human species and in pre-industrial human societies, seeking commonalities which perhaps can then be used in teasing apart more complex examples."

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