Social learning strategies and cooperative behaviour: Evidence of payoff bias, but not prestige or conformity, in a social dilemma game

Robin Watson, Thomas J.H. Morgan, Rachel L. Kendal, Julie Van de Vyver, Jeremy Kendal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Human cooperation, occurring without reciprocation and between unrelated individuals in large populations, represents an evolutionary puzzle. One potential explanation is that cooperative behaviour may be transmitted between individuals via social learning. Using an online social dilemma experiment, we find evidence that participants’ contributions were more consistent with payoff-biased transmission than prestige-biased transmission or conformity. We also found some evidence for lower cooperation (i) when exposed to social information about peer cooperation levels than without such information, and (ii) in the prisoners’ dilemma game compared to the snowdrift game. A simulation model established that the observed cooperation was more likely to be caused by participants’ general propensity to cooperate than by the effect of social learning strategies employed within the experiment, but that this cooperative propensity could be reduced through selection. Overall, our results support previous experimental evidence indicating the role of payoff-biased transmission in explaining cooperative behaviour, but we find that this effect was small and was overwhelmed by participants’ general propensity for cooperation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number89
JournalGames
Volume12
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Conformity
  • Cooperation
  • Cultural evolution
  • Payoff
  • Prestige
  • Prisoner’s dilemma
  • Snowdrift
  • Social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty
  • Applied Mathematics

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