Subtle social clues, explicit incentives and cooperation in social dilemmas

Chr. Boone, C. Declerck, S. Suetens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Subtle contextual social cues and the explicit incentive structure of social dilemmas are two important, but fundamentally different classes of determinants of cooperative behavior. The former provides subjective social information regarding the likelihood of attaining mutual cooperation by shaping one's expectations of the cooperative behavior of the interacting party. The latter provides objective, ecological information about the strategic opportunities offered by the situation. In prior research, both classes have generally been studied in isolation, hampering insight into how social judgments and ecological opportunities interact in shaping cooperation. To fill in this gap we set up a repeated mixed-motive game in which we manipulate subtle social cues and the incentive structure of the game simultaneously. We develop the hypothesis that social information is less important in shaping mutual cooperation of two team members when the incentive structure is such that it contains natural synergies. In contrast, when the incentive structure offers no synergy, “rational contracting” is hampered and social cues are essential for mutual cooperation to develop. The evidence we present in this paper is consistent with this hypothesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-188
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Cooperation
  • Social dilemmas
  • Social congition
  • Incentives
  • Social cues


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