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Passive non-participation versus strategic defection in a collective risk social dilemma

Autumn Bynum, Reuben Kline and Oleg Smirnov

Journal of Theoretical Politics, 2016, vol. 28, issue 1, 138-158

Abstract: Empirical evidence suggests that non-participation underlies a variety of social dilemmas. In collective risk social dilemmas (CRSD), non-participation is viewed as strategic defection—a selfish behavior that increases individual utility at the cost of the group. We conducted a hybrid laboratory-then-online experiment to examine if non-participation in a CRSD may be fundamentally different from the act of strategic defection. We confirmed that non-participation is a problem in a social dilemma. When participation is required, a randomly formed group of subjects was virtually certain to reach the loss prevention threshold (0.999 probability). On the other hand, when an empirically realistic non-participation option was introduced, the probability of reaching the goal by a randomly formed group decreased to 0.599. We also found evidence that the profile of a typical non-participant does not fit the profile of a strategic defector. Non-participants in the experiment were highly cooperative when they had to make a contribution decision. Non-participants in the experiment did not try to increase their payoffs, including in the treatment condition when non-participation led to a default contribution of 100% of the subject’s endowment.

Keywords: Collective risk; cooperation; participation; public goods game; social dilemma (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2016
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