Advertising cooperative phenotype through costly signals facilitates collective action

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LANG Martin CHVAJA Radim PURZYCKI Benjamin VÁCLAVÍK David STANĚK Rostislav

Year of publication 2022
Type Article in Periodical
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Keywords cooperation; costly signaling; public goods game; free-riding
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Description Around the world, people engage in practices that involve self-inflicted pain and apparently wasted resources. Researchers theorized that these practices help stabilize within-group cooperation by assorting individuals committed to collective action. While this proposition was previously studied using existing religious practices, we provide a controlled framework for an experimental investigation of various predictions derived from this theory. We recruited 372 university students in the Czech Republic who were randomly assigned into either a high-cost or low-cost condition and then chose to play a public goods game (PGG) either in a group that wastes money to signal commitment to high contributions in the game or to play in the group without such signals. We predicted that cooperators would assort in the high-cost revealed group and that, despite these costs, they would contribute more to the common pool and earn larger individual rewards over five iterations of PGG compared with the concealed group and participants in the low-cost condition. The results showed that the assortment of cooperators was more effective in the high-cost condition and translated into larger contributions of the remaining endowment to the common pool, but participants in the low-cost revealed group earned the most. We conclude that costly signals can serve as an imperfect assorting mechanism, but the size of the costs needs to be carefully balanced with potential benefits to be profitable.
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