Shame and honor drive cooperation

Can the threat of being shamed or the prospect of being honoured lead to greater cooperation? We test this hypothesis with anonymous six-player public goods experiments, an experimental paradigm used to investigate problems related to overusing common resources. We instructed the players that the two individuals who were least generous after 10 rounds would be exposed to the group. As the natural antithesis, we also test the effects of honour by revealing the identities of the two players who were most generous. The non-monetary, reputational effects induced by shame and honour each led to approximately 50 per cent higher donations to the public good when compared with the control, demonstrating that both shame and honour can drive cooperation and can help alleviate the tragedy of the commons.

Jacquet, J., C. Hauert, A. Traulsen, & M. Milinski (2011) Shame and honour drive cooperation. Biology Letters 7:899-901. (Featured as part of Editors’ Choice in Science.)