The Use of Peer Sanctioning Mechanisms in an Asymmetric Commons Dilemma: An Experimental Study

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2000
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"In symmetric commons dilemmas, peer sanctioning, i.e. the possibility to gather information about the resource use of others and to sanction overuse, can be an effective structural solution in terms of resource conservation. However, most real world commons are characterized by structural asymmetries, with some users having the facilities to harvest more and therefore being more powerful than others. This structure is, for example, found in fisheries where large commercial fishers with sizable harvesting capacities compete with smaller subsistence fishers. "Will peer sanctioning be effective in asymmetric commons dilemmas as well? And what are the effects of structural asymmetry on the users information gathering behavior? Do individual users request more information about the resource use of powerful actors because they expect powerful actors to misuse their power? And do powerful actors themselves request more or less information about the resource use of others than powerless actors? "To answer these questions, an experimental study was conducted. The research tool was a computer-simulated fishing commons, having one human player compete with four computer simulated others playing a range of fixed strategies in an iterated game. On the one hand, the players' task was to decide about their harvests and to inform the other players about their decisions. However, the players were told that this information was not necessarily true and that they therefore could not rely on the indicated harvest sizes of the others. On the other hand, by giving the players the possibility to gather information about the resource use of the others, a peer sanctioning system was introduced. If overuse was detected, the overusing player was sanctioned. As the costs of information gathering had to be born individually while sanctioning resulted in collective gains (distribution of an additional bonus in the short run, resource conservation in the long run), the peer sanctioning system constituted a second order social dilemma. "In the experimental setting, both the most overusing computer simulated players' power and the human players' power were manipulated. In general, the subjects' information gathering behavior turned out to be quite adaptive, making use of the sanctioning system whenever they suspected overuse. Results indicated also that the application of the sanctioning system depended on the other players' observed harvests and on expectations concerning their future harvests, but not on the other players power. Furthermore, powerful subjects tended to gather more information about the resource use of others than powerless subjects. Further analyses of the experimental situation allow for the conclusion that the subjects' information gathering behavior was presumably mediated by their knowledge about the other players' harvesting strategies. Implications for the management of real world commons are discussed."
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IASC, common pool resources, fisheries--models, game theory--research, simulations, social dilemmas--models, monitoring and sanctioning--models, information--theory
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