Are Groups Less Cooperative than Individuals? Groups as Likely as Individuals to Help an Outgroup if it is Economically Beneficial, but not Under Resource Inequality

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"Cooperation between groups has been largely ignored in the studies of common pool resources. However, examples of intergroup cooperation taking the form of reciprocal grazing agreements, livestock transfers, or exchanges of harvests are common and well-documented. The question arises over reasons why groups cooperate, with the ethnographic literature suggesting social concerns (reciprocity), redistributive motives (inequality aversion), and economic benefits (risk-sharing) as alternative explanations. We design a common pool resource experiment to examine which of these explanations are more likely, depending on whether individuals or small groups act as decision-makers. The experiment consists of a two-stage game. In the first stage, individuals harvest resources from the common pool of resources. In the second stage, they can send some of their harvests to augment resources in the common pool of the outgroup. Hence, the second stage of our experiment closely relates to trust and gift-exchange games. In the ‘baseline’, group members decide individually on how much of the harvest to donate to the outgroup. In treatments where groups act as decision-makers, subjects vote on how much everyone should donate to the outgroup. One vote is subsequently selected and is binding for everyone in the group. We find that groups as decision makers are less likely to share resources with an outgroup, but if they do, they donate more than individuals. Our experiment reveals a dark side of group voting. When combined with unequal resources, voting increases the probability of resource exhaustion. The relatively less affluent groups overharvest resources in expectation of donations from the outgroup to compensate for their 'bad behavior' (overharvesting)."



social behavior