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Advancing the understanding of behavior in social-ecological systems: results from lab and field experiments

Marco A Janssen, Therese Lindahl, and James J Murphy
2015 Ecology and Society http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/issues/view.php?sf=102.

Journal Articles

Advancing the Understanding of Behavior in Social-Ecological Systems: Results from Lab and Field Experiments

Janssen, M.A., T. Lindahl, and J.J. Murphy

2015 Ecology and Society 20(4):34.

Synergistic effects of voting and enforcement on internalized motivation to cooperate in a resource dilemma

DeCaro, D.A., M.A. Janssen and A. Lee

2015 Judgment and Decision Making 10(6): 511-537.


We used psychological methods to investigate how two prominent interventions, participatory decision making and en- forcement, influence voluntary cooperation in a common-pool resource dilemma. Groups (N=40) harvested resources from a shared resource pool. Individuals in the Voted-Enforce condition voted on conservation rules and could use economic sanc- tions to enforce them. In other conditions, individuals could not vote (Imposed-Enforce condition), lacked enforcement (Voted condition), or both (Imposed condition). Cooperation was strongest in the Voted-Enforce condition (Phase 2). Moreover, these groups continued to cooperate voluntarily after enforcement was removed later in the experiment. Cooperation was weakest in the Imposed-Enforce condition and degraded after enforcement ceased. Thus, enforcement improved voluntary cooperation only when individuals voted. Perceptions of procedural justice, self-determination, and security were highest in the Voted- Enforced condition. These factors (legitimacy, security) increased voluntary cooperation by promoting rule acceptance and internalized motivation. Voted-Enforce participants also felt closer to one another (i.e., self-other merging), further contribut- ing to their cooperation. Neither voting nor enforcement produced these sustained psychological conditions alone. Voting lacked security without enforcement (Voted condition), so the individuals who disliked the rule (i.e., the losing voters) pil- laged the resource. Enforcement lacked legitimacy without voting (Imposed-Enforce condition), so it crowded out internal reasons for cooperation. Governance interventions should carefully promote security without stifling fundamental needs (e.g., procedural justice) or undermining internal motives for cooperation.

Keywords: cooperation, internalized motivation, institutional acceptance, resource dilemma, social dilemma, voting, sanc- tions, motivational crowding, procedural justice, self-determination, self-other merging.


The effect of information in a behavioral irrigation experiment

Janssen, M.A., J.M. Anderies, I. Pérez and D.J. Yu

2015 Water Resources and Economics 12: 14-26.


When governing shared resources, the level and quality of information available to resource users on the actions of others and the state of the environment may have a critical effect on the performance of groups. In the work presented here, we find that lower availability of information does not affect the average performance of the group in terms of their capacity to provide public infrastructure and govern resource use, but it affects the distribution of earnings and the ability to cope with disturbances. We performed behavioral experiments that mimic irrigation dilemmas in which participants need to maintain infrastructure function in order to generate revenue from the use of water. In the experimental design, there is an upstream–downstream asymmetry of access to water that may lead to unequal access to water. We find that inequality of investment in irrigation infrastructure and water appropriation across players is more pronounced in experiments where resource users have limited information about the actions of others. We also find that inequality is linked to the ability of groups to cope with disturbances. Hence a reduced level of information indirectly reduces the adaptive capacity of groups.

Keywords: Public infrastructure; Experimental economics; Inequality; Communication; Asymmetric commons dilemma


Voluntary Provision and Fair Distribution of Public Goods based on Goodness: Behavioral Economic Experiments between China and USA

Ying, C., W. Yi and M.A. Janssen

2015 South China Journal of Economics 33(10): 99-114 (in Chinese).


The rational thinking assumption by mainstream economics has a far distance from real people. This paper designs a series of behavioral economic experiments (trust, prisoners’ dilemma, public good, dictator, and ultimatum games) and conducts them in two university classrooms in China and the USA. It shows that people intrinsically have goodness and social thinking, and can provide public goods voluntarily, and have a fair preference for economic interest distribution. However, the American students show a higher trust degree and cooperation level, and stronger preferences of cooperation and fairness than the Chinese ones. Therefore, this paper suggests that policymakers are necessary to fully understand people’s social thinking and micro behavior and they are necessary to emphasize publicizing this kind of thinking, ability, and action and should provide an information platform for people to solve collective dilemmas voluntarily.

Keywords:  Goodness; Thinking Socially; Voluntary Provision; Fair Distribution; Behavioral Economic Experiments

摘 要:主流经济学的理性思维与现实中人的思维存在偏差。本文设计了一系列行为经济实验 (信任、囚徒困境、公共品、独裁和最后通牒实验) 并在中美两国大学课堂上实施。研究表明:人们 天生具有善意本质和社会性思维,能够自愿供给公共品,偏好经济利益的公平分配;而在信任度、合 作偏好、合作水平和公平偏好的量化方面,美方都表现出更高 (强)的特征。本文建议政策制定者 有必要充分了解人们的社会性思维及相应的微观行为,政策的重点有必要充分考虑到这些思维、能 力和行动,以及为人们自愿解决集体行动问题提供信息平台。


Irrigation Experiments in the Lab: Trust, Environmental Variability, and Collective Action

Baggio, J.A., Rollins, N.D., I. Perez, and M.A. Janssen

2015 Ecology and Society 20 (4): 12.


Research on collective action and common-pool resources is extensive. However, little work has concentrated on the effect of variability in resource availability and collective action, especially in the context of asymmetric access to resources. Earlier works have demonstrated that environmental variability often leads to a reduction of collective action in the governance of shared resources. Here we assess how environmental variability may impact collective action. We performed a behavioral experiment involving an irrigation dilemma. In this dilemma participants invested first into a public fund that generated water resources for the group, which were subsequently appropriated by one participant at a time from head end to tail end. The amount of resource generated for the given investment level was determined by a payoff table and a stochastic event representing environmental variability, i.e., rainfall. Results show that that (1) upstream users’ behavior is by far the most important variable in determining the outcome of collective action; (2) environmental variability (i.e. risk level in investing in the resource) has little effect on individual investment and extraction levels; and (3) the action-reaction feedback is fundamental in determining the success or failure of communities.

Keywords: asymmetry; common-pool resources; feedbacks; laboratory experiments; trust; variability


Paleoscape model of coastal South Africa during modern human origins: progress in scaling and coupling climate, vegetation, and agent-based models on XSEDE

Shook, E., C. Wren, C.W. Marean, A.J. Potts, J. Franklin, F. Engelbrecht, D. O?Neal, M.A. Janssen, E. Fisher, K. Hill, K.J. Esler, R.M. Cowling, S. Scheiter, G. Moncrieff

2015 Proceedings of the 2015 XSEDE Conference: Scientific Advancements Enabled by Enhanced Cyberinfrastructure 2:1-2:8.


To better understand the origins of modern humans, we are developing a paleoscape model that simulates the climatic conditions and distribution of natural resources available to humans during this critical stage of human evolution. Our geographic focus is the southern Cape region of South Africa, which was rich in natural resources for hunter-gatherer groups including edible plants, shellfish, animals, and raw materials. We report our progress in using the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) to realize the paleoscape model, which consists of four components: a climate model, correlative and dynamic vegetation models, and agent-based models. We adopt a workflow-based approach that combines modeling and data analytics to couple these four modeling components using XSEDE. We have made significant progress in scaling climate and agent-based models on XSEDE. Our next steps will be to couple these models to the vegetation models to complete the workflow, which will require overcoming multiple theoretical, methodological, and technical challenges.


Social roles and performance of social-ecological systems: evidence from behavioral lab experiments

Perez, I., D.J. Yu. M.A. Janssen and J.M. Anderies

2015 Ecology and Society 20(3): 23.


Social roles are thought to play an important role in determining the capacity for collective action in a community regarding the use of shared resources. Here we report on the results of a study using a behavioral experimental approach regarding the relationship between social roles and the performance of social-ecological systems. The computer-based irrigation experiment that was the basis of this study mimics the decisions faced by farmers in small-scale irrigation systems. In each of 20 rounds, which are analogous to growing seasons, participants face a two-stage commons dilemma. First they must decide how much to invest in the public infrastructure, e.g., canals and water diversion structures. Second, they must decide how much to extract from the water made available by that public infrastructure. Each round begins with a 60-second communication period before the players make their investment and extraction decisions. By analyzing the chat messages exchanged among participants during the communication stage of the experiment, we coded up to three roles per participant using the scheme of seven roles known to be important in the literature: leader, knowledge generator, connector, follower, moralist, enforcer, and observer. Our study supports the importance of certain social roles (e.g., connector) previously highlighted by several case study analyses. However, using qualitative comparative analysis we found that none of the individual roles was sufficient for groups to succeed, i.e., to reach a certain level of group production. Instead, we found that a combination of at least five roles was necessary for success. In addition, in the context of upstream-downstream asymmetry, we observed a pattern in which social roles assumed by participants tended to differ by their positions. Although our work generated some interesting insights, further research is needed to determine how robust our findings are to different action situations, such as biophysical context, social network, and resource uncertainty.

Keywords: behavioral experiments; communication; irrigation systems; lab experiments; qualitative comparative analysis; social-ecological networks; social-ecological systems; social roles


A multi-level evolutionary framework for sustainability analysis

Waring, T.M., M.A. Kline, J.S. Brooks, S.H. Goff, J. Gowdy, M.A. Janssen, P.E. Smaldino, J. Jacquet

2015 Ecology ans Society 20(2): 34.


Sustainability theory can help achieve desirable social-ecological states by generalizing lessons across contexts and improving the design of sustainability interventions. To accomplish these goals, we argue that theory in sustainability science must (1) explain the emergence and persistence of social-ecological states, (2) account for endogenous cultural change, (3) incorporate cooperation dynamics, and (4) address the complexities of multilevel social-ecological interactions. We suggest that cultural evolutionary theory broadly, and cultural multilevel selection in particular, can improve on these fronts. We outline a multilevel evolutionary framework for describing social-ecological change and detail how multilevel cooperative dynamics can determine outcomes in environmental dilemmas. We show how this framework complements existing sustainability frameworks with a description of the emergence and persistence of sustainable institutions and behavior, a means to generalize causal patterns across social-ecological contexts, and a heuristic for designing and evaluating effective sustainability interventions. We support these assertions with case examples from developed and developing countries in which we track cooperative change at multiple levels of social organization as they impact social-ecological outcomes. Finally, we make suggestions for further theoretical development, empirical testing, and application.

Keywords: cooperation; cultural evolution; multilevel selection; sustainability; theory


A New Research Strategy for Integrating Studies of Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment, and Paleoanthropology

Marean, C.W., R.J. Anderson, M. Bar-Matthews, K. Braun, R.M. Cowling, F. Engelbrecht, K.J. Esler, E. Fisher, J. Franklin, K. Hill, M.A. Janssen, A.J. Potts, and R. Zahn

2015 Evolutionary Anthropology 24(2): 62-72.


Paleoanthropologists (scientists studying human origins) universally recognize the evolutionary significance of ancient climates and environments for understanding human origins.[1-6] Even those scientists working in recent phases of human evolution, when modern humans evolved, agree that hunter-gatherer adaptations are tied to the way that climate and environment shape the food and technological resource base.[7-10] The result is a long tradition of paleoanthropologists engaging with climate and environmental scientists in an effort to understand if and how hominin bio-behavioral evolution responded to climate and environmental change. Despite this unusual consonance, the anticipated rewards of this synergy are unrealized and, in our opinion, will not reach potential until there are some fundamental changes in the way the research model is constructed. Discovering the relation between climate and environmental change to human origins must be grounded in a theoretical framework and a causal understanding of the connection between climate, environment, resource patterning, behavior, and morphology, then move beyond the strict correlative research that continues to dominate the field.


The Effect of Spatial Heterogeneity and Mobility on the Performance of Social-Ecological Systems

Perez, I. and M.A. Janssen

2015 Ecological Modelling 296: 1-11.


We use an agent-based model to analyze the effects of spatial heterogeneity and agents’ mobility on social–ecological outcomes. Our model is a stylized representation of a dynamic population of agents moving and harvesting a renewable resource. Cooperators (agents who harvest an amount close to the maximum sustainable yield) and selfish agents (those who harvest an amount greater than the sustainable yield) are simulated in the model. Three indicators of the outcomes of the system are analyzed: the number of settlements, the resource level, and the proportion of cooperators in the population. Our paper adds a more realistic approach to previous studies on the evolution of cooperation by considering a social–ecological system in which agents move in a landscape to harvest a renewable resource. Our results conclude that resource dynamics play an important role when studying levels of cooperation and resource use. Our simulations show that the agents’ mobility significantly affects the outcomes of the system. This response is nonlinear and very sensible to the type of spatial distribution of the resource richness. In our simulations, better outcomes of long-term sustainability of the resource are obtained with moderate agent mobility and cooperation is enhanced in harsh environments with low resource level in which cooperative groups have natural boundaries fostered by agents’ low mobility.

Keywords: Agent-based model; Cooperation; Heterogeneous landscape; Mobility; Social–ecological systems; Spatial heterogeneity


A behavioral perspective on the governance of common resources

Janssen, M.A.

2015 Current Opinions in Environmental Sustainability 12:1-5.


During the last 40 years evidence from systematic case study analysis and behavioral experiments have provided a comprehensive perspective on how communities can manage common resources in a sustainable way. The conventional theory based on selfish rational actors cannot explain empirical observations. A more comprehensive theoretical framework of human behavior is emerging that include concepts such as trust, conditional cooperation, other-regarding preferences, social norms, and reputation. The new behavioral perspective also demonstrates that behavioral responses depend on social and biophysical context.



Taking a Moment to Measure Networks – A Hierarchical Approach

Salau, K., J.A. Baggio, M.A. Janssen, and J.K. Abbott, and E.P. Fenichel
2015 https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1509/1509.07813.pdf


Network-theoretic tools contribute to understanding real-world system dynamics, e.g., in wildlife conservation, epidemics, and power outages. Network visualization helps illustrate structural heterogeneity; however, details about heterogeneity are lost when summarizing networks with a single mean-style measure. Researchers have indicated that a hierarchical system composed of multiple metrics may be a more useful determinant of structure, but a formal method for grouping metrics is still lacking. We develop a hierarchy using the statistical concept of moments and systematically test the hypothesis that this system of metrics is sufficient to explain the variation in processes that take place on networks, using an ecological systems example. Results indicate that the moments approach outperforms single summary metrics and accounts for a majority of the variation in process outcomes. The hierarchical measurement scheme is helpful for indicating when additional structural information is needed to describe system process outcomes.


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