Carrots are better than sticks when it comes to fostering cooperation

September 4th, 2009 - 1:16 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Sept 4 (ANI): Rewards have been found to be much more successful in promoting public cooperation rather than punishment, suggests a new study.

According to researchers, rewards robustly build compliance and cooperation and could help in developing solutions for thorny problems requiring the cooperation of large numbers of people to achieve a greater good.

“All of us engage in public goods games, on both large and small scales,” said David G. Rand, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and lead author of the study.

“Climate change is a huge public goods game: If each person does his or her part to conserve energy and reduce CO2 emissions, it benefits us all.

“On a more local level, public goods games include volunteering on school boards, helping to maintain public facilities in your community, or cleaning up after yourself and doing your share of work at the office.

“In these types of domains, where people interact repeatedly with each other to solve a group social dilemma, our work suggests that rewards result in better outcomes than punishment,” he added.

Rand said that these rewards could change individuals’ behaviour and encourage cooperation without the destructive negative consequences that come with punishment.

During the study headed by Martin A. Nowak of Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, the researchers examined cooperation among 192 participants in a public goods game probing the fundamental tension between the interests of an individual and a group.

Over 50 rounds of interaction, each of four participants in a group would decide how much to contribute toward a common pool that benefited all four equally. Each participant was then able - at a cost to him or herself- to either reward or punish each of the three other subjects for their contributions to the group, or lack thereof.

As in real life, Rand said, study subjects tend to resent “free riders” who fail to contribute to a group yet reap the benefits of membership in it.

“But despite this anger at free riders, rewarding good behaviour is as effective as punishing bad behaviour for maintaining public cooperation and leads to better outcomes for the group. When both options are available, reward leads to increased contributions and payoff for the group, while punishment has no effect on contributions and leads to lower payoff for the group,” Rand added.

The study appears in journal Science. (ANI)

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