Contribution of individual social preferences on the propensity to cooperate: Lessons from an experimental study



Abstract. Axelrod (1992) highlighted the important role of cooperation in actors’ strategy and performance in the social interactions. This importance is confirmed by Thépot (1998). The understanding of individual propensity to cooperate is an important field to better know their strategies and the performance of the economic systems’ in which they evolve. In this sense, game theory indicates that individual’s propensity to cooperate depends on his anticipation of decision that will be made by other participants and his expected gain. The challenge of this assumption based on experimental study generated other motivations to individual decision. An individual can be motivated by altruism, reciprocity, inequity aversion, …these motivations, other than self-pecuniary interest, form the social preferences theory which opened the way to other reading of individual propensity to cooperate within organizations. A better understanding of the influence of these social preferences on the decisions to cooperate (or not) within organizations have motivated this research. It relies on data collected through an experimental study which allowed the identification of the motivations (altruism, desire of reciprocity, inequity aversion,…) which best characterize individual social preferences and to study its influence on the contributions made in public good game. It concludes that the presence of rational selfish persons only motivated by pecuniary gain is the cause of cooperation’s declining within organizations and that individuals motivated by an inequity aversion have some resilience when they experiment a lack of cooperation from other organizations members. It therefore establishes that an individual social preference influence his propensity to cooperate within organization. As well, in addition to other determinants found in the literature, the conclusions of this research underline the role of social preferences in the functioning and the dynamics of organizations. 

Keywords. Social preferences, Cooperation, Experimental study.

JEL. C72, C81.


Social preferences; Cooperation; Experimental study.

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