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Journal Articles Journal of the Economic Science Association Year : 2024

Learning to cooperate in the shadow of the law


Formal enforcement punishing defectors can sustain cooperation by changing incentives. In this paper, we introduce a second effect of enforcement: it can also affect the capacity to learn about the group’s cooperativeness. Indeed, in contexts with strong enforcement, it is difficult to tell apart those who cooperate because of the threat of fines from those who are intrinsically cooperative types. Whenever a group is intrinsically cooperative, enforcement will thus have a negative dynamic effect on cooperation because it slows down learning about prevalent values in the group that would occur under a weaker enforcement. We provide theoretical and experimental evidence in support of this mechanism. Using a lab experiment with independent interactions and random rematching, we observe that, in early interactions, having faced an environment with fines in the past decreases current cooperation. We further show that this results from the interaction between enforcement and learning: the effect of having met cooperative partners has a stronger effect on current cooperation when this happened in an environment with no enforcement. Replacing one signal of deviation without fine by a signal of cooperation without fine in a player’s history increases current cooperation by 10%; while replacing it by a signal of cooperation with fine increases current cooperation by only 5%.
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hal-04511257 , version 1 (19-03-2024)



Roberto Galbiati, Emeric Henry, Nicolas Jacquemet. Learning to cooperate in the shadow of the law. Journal of the Economic Science Association, In press, ⟨10.1007/s40881-023-00159-x⟩. ⟨hal-04511257⟩
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