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Breeding cooperation: cultural evolution in an intergenerational public goods experiment

Vicken Hillis, University of California, Davis
Mark Lubell, University of California, Davis


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The transmission of cooperative norms among individuals across generations plays a key role in our ability to successfully manage social–ecological systems in changing environments. Here, we use an intergenerational public goods experiment combining both cooperative advice and in-game communication in order to examine the transmission of cooperative norms across generations of experimental participants. We show that cooperative intergenerational advice has a positive impact on both (i) contributions by individuals in a subsequent generation and (ii) the cooperative content of communication among individuals in a subsequent generation. The impact of cooperative intergenerational advice is most pronounced at the beginning of the subsequent generation. The impact of in-game communication, on the other hand, is relatively consistent over the course of the experiment. Sessions combining advice and communication have the highest levels of cooperation overall. Our findings highlight the potential contributions of intergenerational experiments to research in social–ecological systems more generally.

Key words

cultural evolution; intergenerational experiment; public goods game; social–ecological systems

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087