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Science. 2010 Nov 12;330(6006):961-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1193649.

Conditional cooperation and costly monitoring explain success in forest commons management.

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Institute for Environmental Decisions, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zurich, Universitätsstrasse 22, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


Recent evidence suggests that prosocial behaviors like conditional cooperation and costly norm enforcement can stabilize large-scale cooperation for commons management. However, field evidence on the extent to which variation in these behaviors among actual commons users accounts for natural commons outcomes is altogether missing. Here, we combine experimental measures of conditional cooperation and survey measures on costly monitoring among 49 forest user groups in Ethiopia with measures of natural forest commons outcomes to show that (i) groups vary in conditional cooperator share, (ii) groups with larger conditional cooperator share are more successful in forest commons management, and (iii) costly monitoring is a key instrument with which conditional cooperators enforce cooperation. Our findings are consistent with models of gene-culture coevolution on human cooperation and provide external validity to laboratory experiments on social dilemmas.

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