Advancing the understanding of behavior in social-ecological systems: results from lab and field experiments

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Experiments have made important contributions to our understanding of human behavior, including behavior relevant for understanding social-ecological systems. When there is a conflict between individual and group interests in social-ecological

Experiments have made important contributions to our understanding of human behavior, including behavior relevant for understanding social-ecological systems. When there is a conflict between individual and group interests in social-ecological systems, social dilemmas occur. From the many types of social-dilemma formulations that are used to study collective action, common-pool resource and public-good dilemmas are most relevant for social-ecological systems. Experimental studies of both common-pool resource and public-good dilemmas have shown that many predictions based on the conventional theory of collective action, which assumes rational, self-interested behavior, do not hold. More cooperation occurs than predicted (Ledyard 1995), “cheap talk” increases cooperation (Ostrom 2006), and participants are willing to invest in sanctioning free riders (Yamagishi 1986, Ostrom et al. 1992, Fehr and Gächter 2000, Chaudhuri 2011). Experiments have also demonstrated a diversity of motivations, which affect individual decisions about cooperation and sanctioning (see Fehr and Fischbacher 2002 and Sobel 2005 for reviews, and Bowles 2008 for policy implications).