Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The (un)willingness to reward cooperators and punish non-cooperators

What are the determinants of the willingness to administer rewards for cooperation and punishments for non-cooperation, and how do they influence people’s sanctioning behavior?

As a member of groups, organizations, and societies, we frequently encounter situations that require us to cooperate with others. This may involve cooperation with relatives, colleagues, and neighbors, but also with strangers. In many of these situations, we may be confronted with others who do not feel inclined to cooperate. The fact that groups often include members who do not cooperate can be detrimental to the collective. For example, group performance may suffer from group members who expect that others will compensate for their lack of effort (i.e., free-riders), organizations may be less efficient when employees work independently of each other, and the natural environment is jeopardized by the many environmental-unfriendly choices people make. Thus, the welfare of the collective is often influenced by the individual choices people make, either positively (in case of cooperative choice behavior) or negatively (in case of non-cooperative choice behavior).

From a collective point of view, it comes as no surprise that authorities often employ sanctions to promote cooperative choice behavior. Sanctions can either be positive means to increase cooperation (i.e., rewards, such as a bonus, price, or privilege) or negative means to decrease non-cooperation (i.e., punishment, such as a fine penalty, or restriction). Research has repeatedly shown that both means can effectively promote cooperation. However, to effectively promote cooperative choice behavior, those in control of rewards and punishments should of course first be willing to provide and impose them. After all, sanction opportunities can only show their effect if they are actually administered. In this research project, we address this important aspect of implementing sanction opportunities by investigating people’s willingness to reward cooperation and punish non-cooperation.