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Humans may cooperate strategically, cooperating at higher levels than expected from their short-term interests, to try and stimulate others to cooperate. To test this hypothesis, we experimentally manipulated the extent an individual's behaviour is known to others, and hence whether or not strategic cooperation is possible. In contrast with many previous studies, we avoided confounding factors by preventing individuals from learning during the game about either pay-offs or about how other individuals behave. We found clear evidence for strategic cooperators-just telling some individuals that their groupmates would be informed about their behaviour led to them tripling their initial level of cooperation, from 17 to 50%. We also found that many individuals play as if they do not understand the game, and their presence obscures the detection of strategic cooperation. Identifying such players allowed us to detect and study strategic motives for cooperation in novel, more powerful, ways.

Original publication

DOI

10.1098/rspb.2017.0689

Type

Journal article

Journal

Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date

14/06/2017

Volume

284

Keywords

altruism, confusion, rationality, reputation, signalling