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Increasing Cooperation in Prisoner's Dilemmas by Establishing a Precedent of Efficiency in Coordination Games

Knez, Marc and Camerer, Colin (2000) Increasing Cooperation in Prisoner's Dilemmas by Establishing a Precedent of Efficiency in Coordination Games. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 82 (2). pp. 194-216. ISSN 0749-5978. doi:10.1006/obhd.2000.2882.

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Coordination games have multiple Nash equilibria (i.e., sets of strategies which are best responses to one another). In weak-link coordination games players choose a number 1–7. Their payoff is increasing in the minimum number (or weakest link) and decreasing in the difference between their number and the minimum. Choosing 7 is an efficient equilibrium because it gives everybody a higher payoff than any other coordinated choice. Higher-payoff equilibria are riskier, however, so the game expresses the tradeoff between group efficiency and personal risk present in many social and organizational settings. We tested whether choosing efficiently in a weak-link game increases cooperative play in a subsequent prisoner's dilemma (PD) game. This cross-game transfer resembles the transfer of cooperative norms in small firms (which are more like coordination games than PDs) as firms grow larger and become like PDs. In two experiments, if a group of players share a history of playing the weak-link game efficiently, that efficiency precedent can transfer to a subsequent PD game, improving the level of cooperativeness. The effect of transfer is much larger in magnitude (increasing cooperation from 15–30% to 71%) than the effects of most variables in previous PD studies. However, the transfer effect depends on descriptive similarity of strategies in the two games, since it largely disappears when the strategies are numbered differently in the weak-link game and the PD.

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Camerer, Colin0000-0003-4049-1871
Additional Information:© 2000 Academic Press. Received 11 September 1996. Available online 12 March 2002. Helpful comments were received from Ron Burt, James Coleman, Chip Heath, Rod Kramer, one referee and both editors, participants at the Stanford GSB conference on Strategy and Organization, October 1994, and participants at the University of Chicago GSB Social Organization of Competition Workshop, January 24, 1995.
Issue or Number:2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20110208-100114253
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Official Citation:Marc Knez, Colin Camerer, Increasing Cooperation in Prisoner's Dilemmas by Establishing a Precedent of Efficiency in Coordination Games, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Volume 82, Issue 2, July 2000, Pages 194-216, ISSN 0749-5978, DOI: 10.1006/obhd.2000.2882. (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:22070
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:08 Feb 2011 20:13
Last Modified:09 Nov 2021 16:02

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