Reward, punishment, and cooperation: A meta-analysis.

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    How effective are rewards (for cooperation) and punishment (for noncooperation) as tools to promote cooperation in social dilemmas or situations when immediate self-interest and longer term collective interest conflict? What variables can promote the impact of these incentives? Although such questions have been examined, social and behavioral scientists provide different answers. To date, there is no theoretical and/or quantitative review of rewards and punishments as incentives for cooperation in social dilemmas. Using a novel interdependence-theoretic framework, we propose that rewards and punishments should both promote cooperation, and we identify 2 variables-cost of incentives and source of incentives-that are predicted to magnify the effectiveness of these incentives in promoting cooperation. A meta-analysis involving 187 effect sizes revealed that rewards and punishments exhibited a statistically equivalent positive effect on cooperation (d = 0.51 and 0.70, respectively). The effectiveness of incentives was stronger when the incentives were costly to administer, compared to free. Centralization of incentives did not moderate the effect size. Punishments were also more effective during iterated dilemmas when participants continued to interact in the same group, compared to both (a) iterated dilemmas with reassignment to a new group after each trial and (b) one-shot dilemmas. We also examine several other potential moderators, such as iterations, partner matching, group size, country, and participant payment. We discuss broad conclusions, consider implications for theory, and suggest directions for future research on rewards and punishment in social dilemmas. © 2011 American Psychological Association.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)594-615
    JournalPsychological Bulletin
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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