Increasing Cooperation in Prisoner's Dilemmas by Establishing a Precedent of Efficiency in Coordination Games
Published on Jul 1, 2000in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes2.91
· DOI :10.1006/obhd.2000.2882
Coordination games have multiple Nash equilibria (i.e., sets of strategies which are best responses to one another). In weak-link coordination games players choose a number 1–7. Their payoff is increasing in the minimum number (or weakest link) and decreasing in the difference between their number and the minimum. Choosing 7 is an efficient equilibrium because it gives everybody a higher payoff than any other coordinated choice. Higher-payoff equilibria are riskier, however, so the game expresses the tradeoff between group efficiency and personal risk present in many social and organizational settings. We tested whether choosing efficiently in a weak-link game increases cooperative play in a subsequent prisoner's dilemma (PD) game. This cross-game transfer resembles the transfer of cooperative norms in small firms (which are more like coordination games than PDs) as firms grow larger and become like PDs. In two experiments, if a group of players share a history of playing the weak-link game efficiently, that efficiency precedent can transfer to a subsequent PD game, improving the level of cooperativeness. The effect of transfer is much larger in magnitude (increasing cooperation from 15–30% to 71%) than the effects of most variables in previous PD studies. However, the transfer effect depends on descriptive similarity of strategies in the two games, since it largely disappears when the strategies are numbered differently in the weak-link game and the PD.