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Explaining cooperation between non-relatives is a puzzle for both evolutionary biology and the social sciences. In humans, cooperation is often studied in a laboratory setting using economic games such as the prisoners' dilemma. However, such experiments are sometimes criticized for being played for low stakes and by misrepresentative student samples. Golden balls is a televised game show that uses the prisoners' dilemma, with a diverse range of participants, often playing for very large stakes. We use this non-experimental dataset to investigate the factors that influence cooperation when "playing" for considerably larger stakes than found in economic experiments. The game show has earlier stages that allow for an analysis of lying and voting decisions. We found that contestants were sensitive to the stakes involved, cooperating less when the stakes were larger in both absolute and relative terms. We also found that older contestants were more likely to cooperate, that liars received less cooperative behavior, but only if they told a certain type of lie, and that physical contact was associated with reduced cooperation, whereas laughter and promises were reliable signals or cues of cooperation, but were not necessarily detected.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Cooperative Behavior, Decision Making, Female, Game Theory, Humans, Interpersonal Relations, Logistic Models, Male, Models, Genetic, Selection, Genetic, Television