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      Nudge for (the Public) Good: How Defaults Can Affect Cooperation

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          In this paper we test the effect of non-binding defaults on the level of contribution to a public good. We manipulate the default numbers appearing on the decision screen to nudge subjects toward a free-rider strategy or a perfect conditional cooperator strategy. Our results show that the vast majority of our subjects did not adopt the default numbers, but their stated strategy was affected by the default. Moreover, we find that our manipulation spilled over to a subsequent repeated public goods game where default was not manipulated. Here we found that subjects who previously saw the free rider default were significantly less cooperative than those who saw the perfect conditional cooperator default.

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          The nature of human altruism.

          Some of the most fundamental questions concerning our evolutionary origins, our social relations, and the organization of society are centred around issues of altruism and selfishness. Experimental evidence indicates that human altruism is a powerful force and is unique in the animal world. However, there is much individual heterogeneity and the interaction between altruists and selfish individuals is vital to human cooperation. Depending on the environment, a minority of altruists can force a majority of selfish individuals to cooperate or, conversely, a few egoists can induce a large number of altruists to defect. Current gene-based evolutionary theories cannot explain important patterns of human altruism, pointing towards the importance of both theories of cultural evolution as well as gene-culture co-evolution.
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            Positive interactions promote public cooperation.

            The public goods game is the classic laboratory paradigm for studying collective action problems. Each participant chooses how much to contribute to a common pool that returns benefits to all participants equally. The ideal outcome occurs if everybody contributes the maximum amount, but the self-interested strategy is not to contribute anything. Most previous studies have found punishment to be more effective than reward for maintaining cooperation in public goods games. The typical design of these studies, however, represses future consequences for today's actions. In an experimental setting, we compare public goods games followed by punishment, reward, or both in the setting of truly repeated games, in which player identities persist from round to round. We show that reward is as effective as punishment for maintaining public cooperation and leads to higher total earnings. Moreover, when both options are available, reward leads to increased contributions and payoff, whereas punishment has no effect on contributions and leads to lower payoff. We conclude that reward outperforms punishment in repeated public goods games and that human cooperation in such repeated settings is best supported by positive interactions with others.

              Author and article information

              Role: Editor
              PLoS One
              PLoS ONE
              PLoS ONE
              Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
              30 December 2015
              : 10
              : 12
              [1 ]University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics, Rolighedsvej 23, 1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark
              [2 ]University of Copenhagen, Department of Economics, Øster Farimagsgade 5, building 26, 1353 Copenhagen K., Denmark
              University of Reading, UNITED KINGDOM
              Author notes

              Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

              Conceived and designed the experiments: TRF MP. Performed the experiments: TRF MP. Analyzed the data: TRF MP. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: TRF MP. Wrote the paper: TRF MP.

              © 2015 Fosgaard, Piovesan

              This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited

              Figures: 3, Tables: 2, Pages: 11
              TRF and MP thank the Department of Economics of the University of Copenhagen for their generous support. No grant number applies ( TRF thanks the Danish Council for Independent Research for the generous funding - Grant # 10-093637. ( The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
              Research Article
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              All the experiment data is available from the FigShare database (



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