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Dynamics of Rules in Commons Dilemmas

(2004 - 2008)

Various social sciences have contributed to understanding how humans make decisions in a given rule set of experimental games, such as social dilemmas, coordination, and bargaining. However, the rules of the games are not fixed in real-life settings. No systematic studies have been performed on the question of how humans are able to change the rules in commons dilemmas. From field studies it is well known that people invest significant effort in crafting new rules. This project will study what causes individuals to invest in rule development, and which cognitive processes explain the ability of humans to craft new rules.

The main research plan consists of three components: laboratory experiments, experiments in the field, and agent-based models. A series of laboratory experiments will be conducted to analyze the effect of the option to change the rules of the game on the level of cooperation. In various treatments, we will analyze the consequences of communication and options to migrate between groups. We also will analyze the learning processes of individuals trying to optimize the rule set for a specific game. The field experiments are aimed to study the role of experience in the ability to craft rules. We will visit a number of communities in Colombia and Southeast Asia, and will perform a number of role games and field experiments. The communities have a dominant resource use of fisheries, forest, or irrigation. In these role games, groups of resource users will be asked to craft rules for a hypothetical common-pool resource, resembling the key problems of fisheries, forests, or irrigation. We will analyze the capacity of the groups to craft rules for resources they are familiar with, and some with which they are not familiar.

The agent-based models will be based on the experimental data and will enable us to test the mathematical properties of co-evolution of strategies and rules. We are especially interested in identifying components of the learning processes, information exchange, and structure of the game that affect the ability of the system to co-evolve to a cooperative equilibrium. Based on the experiments in the laboratory and the field, we will develop a number of web-based educational tools, with which students will be able to experiment with rule-crafting in commons dilemmas.

This project will contribute to the methodological development of agent-based models by combining laboratory and field experiments and to the empirical testing of alternative behavioral models. It may have a broad impact in political science and ecosystem governance by deriving an understanding of what factors affect the ability of resource users to change institutional rules effectively. The project will strengthen the collaboration on experimental research and agent-based modeling between Asia, Latin American and the USA. The web-based educational tools developed will be freely available to students and instructors all over the world.

For a longer description, see project website

Research Team
  • Marco Janssen
  • Marty Anderies

Indiana University (Elinor Ostrom, Robert Goldstone, Filippo Menczer)
Chulalongkorn University, Thailand: Francois Bousquet
University de Los Andes, Colombia: (Juan-Camilo Cardenas)

Funding Sources
National Science Foundation, $594,516

Contact: Marco A. Janssen