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Journal Article

Humans choose representatives who enforce cooperation in social dilemmas through extortion


Marotzke,  Jochem       
Director’s Research Group OES, The Ocean in the Earth System, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Milinski, M., Hilbe, C., Semmann, D., Sommerfeld, R., & Marotzke, J. (2016). Humans choose representatives who enforce cooperation in social dilemmas through extortion. Nature Communications, 7: 10915. doi:10.1038/NCOMMS10915.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0029-D57D-5
Social dilemmas force players to balance between personal and collective gain. In many dilemmas, such as elected governments negotiating climate-change mitigation measures, the decisions are made not by individual players but by their representatives. However, the behaviour of representatives in social dilemmas has not been investigated experimentally. Here inspired by the negotiations for greenhouse-gas emissions reductions, we experimentally study a collective-risk social dilemma that involves representatives deciding on behalf of their fellow group members. Representatives can be re-elected or voted out after each consecutive collective-risk game. Selfish players are preferentially elected and are hence found most frequently in the ‘representatives’ treatment. Across all treatments, we identify the selfish players as extortioners. As predicted by our mathematical model, their steadfast strategies enforce cooperation from fair players who finally compensate almost completely the deficit caused by the extortionate co-players. Everybody gains, but the extortionate representatives and their groups gain the most.