On the evolution of conditional cooperation

Joel M. Guttman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


A long series of laboratory and field experiments, as well as conventional empirical studies, has established that (1) individuals voluntarily provide themselves with public goods at levels exceeding those predicted by the Nash voluntary contributions mechanism, and (2) agents reciprocate increases in the contributions of their counterparts in such settings (conditional cooperation). This paper presents a simple model of the evolution of preferences for conditional cooperation in the presence of a public good, which explains these two empirical findings without employing reputational or group selection arguments. In this model, individuals inherit preferences to match other agents' contributions to the provision of a public good, at some specified "matching rate." Agents whose preferences induce them to be relatively successful - in material terms - increase in number, from one generation to the next. Under complete information and with randomly matched groups of N agents who have quasilinear preferences over the public good and a private good, the unique evolutionarily stable matching rate is 1, leading to Pareto optimal voluntary provision of the public good, regardless of group size N. The evolutionarily stable matching rate can be viewed as an endogenous social norm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-34
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Economy
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Conditional cooperation
  • Cooperation
  • Public goods
  • Reciprocity
  • Social preferences


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