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Experiments on the Commons: A Micro-Behavior Perspective (in Chinese)

Ying, C. and M.A. Janssen 2017
China Science Publishing and Media

Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons and Multiple Methods in Practice

Poteete, A.R., M.A. Janssen and E. Ostrom 2010
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ


Special Issues

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

Governing the commons: Learning from Field and Laboratory experiments

Janssen, M.A. and J.M. Anderies
2011 Ecological Economics 70(9): 1569-1620.

Journal Articles

On the Relative Effectiveness of Coping Strategies for Inadequate Public Water Supply: A Behavioral Experimental Study,

Shin, H.C., P. Yousefi, S. Park, D.J. Yu, M.A. Janssen, S. Vallury, E. Araral

2023 Water Resources Research 59(6).


Unreliable public water supplies cause human hardships and are still common worldwide. Households often deal with the issue by adopting various coping strategies that are representative of economic decentralization (e.g., using private wells, sourcing from third-party vendors) and political decentralization (e.g., making petitions to a public provider). There is growing interest in these user-level decentralized coping strategies, but their relative effects on provider’s behavior and the long-term sustainability of public water supply remain unclear. This puzzle has not been tackled using an experimental approach. This study reports a controlled behavioral experiment conducted to test the relative effectiveness of different coping strategies on infrastructure quality and users-provider cooperation in the context of agricultural water supply. We tested experimental treatments involving two classes of coping strategies: exit and voice. The exit option represents users’ shift to an alternative water source. The voice option represents users’ direct effort to influence a public irrigation service provider. We recruited 272 human subjects into our 4-player experiment (one provider and three users) and observed and compared their decisions under four treatments (exit, voice, their combination, and no options). The results show that the voice option leads to improved outcomes compared to other choices that include the exit option, suggesting that contrary to previously thought, the exit option can be detrimental to users-provider cooperation. We also observed that a user tends to cooperate more (pay and use the public service) when other users do the same.


Using games for social learning to promote self-governance

Janssen, M.A., T. Falk, R. Meinzen-Dick, B. Vollan

2023 Current Opinions in Environmental Sustainability 62: 101289.


Governance of shared resources needs to overcome collective action problems. Relational values and decision-making play a critical role in this process. Approaches are needed to stimulate self-governance, taking relational values into account. We review the literature on the use of collective action games as a tool to stimulate social learning and self-governance. We emphasize the importance of legitimacy in decision-making and the risk of crowding out internalized motivations — for instance, based on relational values — with instrumental incentive mechanisms. We further highlight the need to include ecological outcome indicators in the game design to allow the activation of relational values. Our review concludes that games used as part of a set of participatory activities enable communities to come together to identify relevant problems and craft potential solutions.


How do game design and players’ backgrounds affect extraction behavior in framed field experiments? Evidence from community forestry in India

Zhang, W., R.S. Meinzen-Dick, S. Valappanandi, R. Balakrishna, H. Reddy, M.A. Janssen, L. Thomas, P. Priyadarshini, S. Kandicuppa, R. Chaturvedi, and R. Ghate

2022 International Journal of the Commons 16(1), 341–359.


Framed field experiments (experimental games) are widely used to assess factors affecting cooperation in management of the commons. However, there is relatively little attention to how details of the games affect experimental results. This paper presents qualitative and quantitative results from a framed field experiment in which participants make decisions about extraction of a common-pool resource, a community forest. The experiment was conducted in 2017–2018 with 120 groups of resource users (split by gender) from 60 habitations in two Indian states, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. We test whether within-subject treatments (non-communication, communication, and optional election of institutional arrangements (rules)), remuneration methods, and design of the game board affect harvest behavior and groups’ tendency to cooperate. We also examine how characteristics of the community and players affect players’ choices in the game, with special attention to gender differences. Results reveal participants harvested substantially less than the Nash prediction even in the absence of communication, with men extracting less than women in both states. For male groups in both states, both communication and optional rule election were associated with lower group harvest per round, as compared to the reference non-communication game. For female groups in both states communication itself did not significantly slow resource depletion; but introduction of optional rule election did reduce harvest amounts. For both men and women in Andhra Pradesh and men in Rajasthan, incentivized payments to individual participants significantly lowered group harvest, relative to community flat payment, suggesting such payments stimulated deliberation among game players. Findings have methodological and practical implications for designing behavioral intervention programs to improve common-pool resource governance.


An agent-based model of the interaction between inequality, trust and communication in common pool experiments

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

2022 Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 25(4): 3 .


An agent-based model is presented that aims to capture the involvement of inequality and trust in collective action in a classic commons dilemma before, during, and after communication. The model assumptions are based on the behavioral theory of collective action of Elinor Ostrom and the ‘humanistic rational choice theory’. The commons dilemma is represented as a spatially explicit renewable resource. Agent’s trust in others has an impact on the harvesting of shared resources, and trust is influenced by observed harvesting behavior and cheap talk. We calibrated the model using data from a prior set of lab experiments on inequality, trust, and communication. The best fit to the data consists of a population with a small share of altruistic and selfish agents and a majority of conditional cooperative agents sensitive to inequality and who would cooperate if others did. Communication increased trust explaining the better group performance when communication was introduced. The modeling results complement prior communication research and clarify the dynamics of reciprocal cooperation commonly observed in robust resource governance systems.


Assessing the Institutional Foundations of Adaptive Water Governance in South India

Vallury, S., H.C. Shin, M.A. Janssen, R.M Meinzen-Dick, S. Kandikuppa, K. Rao, R. Chaturvedi

2022 Ecology & Society 27(1): 18.


Institutional structures can fundamentally shape opportunities for adaptive governance of water resources at multiple ecological and societal scales. The properties of adaptive governance have been widely examined in the literature. However, there has been limited focus on how institutions can promote or hinder the emergence of adaptive governance. Elinor Ostrom’s institutional theory stresses the importance of formal and informal norms and rules in effective governance of natural resources. Specifically, Ostrom’s design principles (DPs) are considered important because they increase the capacity for adaptive decision making and facilitate the emergence of self-organization at smaller scales. Self-organizing agents can frequently modify rules-in-use, procedures, and technical methods to tackle changing ecological conditions and address significant management issues left by more traditional governments. In this study, we examine institutional arrangements for successful water governance by analyzing (1) the co-occurrence of DPs in irrigation systems, and (2) the combination(s) of DPs leading to social and ecological success. We collaborated with a local non-profit organization to review institutional records and conduct interviews in 50 irrigation communities in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in South India. Using qualitative comparative analysis, we found that the effectiveness of design principles is contingent on biophysical properties, such as the size of the watershed being governed, and attributes of the community, such as population size. We also discuss the methodological and data-related challenges involved in collecting primary data for conducting a context-specific institutional analysis. Our study offers a much-needed example of empirical research that investigates the role of operational level rules in adaptive water governance.


Channeling environmentalism into climate policy: An experimental study of Fridays for Future participants from Germany

Soliev, I., M.A. Janssen, I. Theesfeld, C. Pritchard, F. Pirscher, A. Lee

2021 Environmental Research Letters 16(11): 14035.


This study argues that scholars and policy-makers need to understand environmental activists better to bridge the gap between growing activism and policy. Conventional wisdom is that environmental activists generally support stronger climate policies. But there is still little understanding about diversity of views within activist groups when it comes to specific policies, and existing studies indicate that their views are not uniform, which can weaken their impact as a group. Activists might unite to demand change, but not necessarily agree on details of the desired change. Exploring the differences within the group, this paper focuses on how to nudge those who already share favorable attitudes towards policies that mitigate climate change. The motivation has been to see, in presence of general support for stronger environmental policies, whether this support could be channeled into more specific policies. We first take on a methodological challenge to construct an index of environmental predisposition. Then drawing from existing social-behavioral scholarship, we analyze results of an experimental survey with select treatments previously reported as promising. In November and December 2019, we collected responses from 119 participants at the Fridays for Future demonstrations in Germany. The results indicate that there are indeed important differences within the group, and nudging effects exist even in this rather strongly predisposed group, with participants assigned to the experimental group showing higher levels of support for the introduction of a carbon tax that is traditionally seen as a difficult policy to gain widespread public support. We find that those who score neither too high nor too low are more likely to respond to nudging. Yet, the effects vary for general outcomes such as policy support, behavioral intentions, and environmental citizenship. Overall, the findings show the value of understanding the heterogeneity of individual views within environmental movements better and directing interventions in large resource systems such as climate to specific issues and target groups for accelerating transformations towards sustainability.


Motivational Foundations of Communication, Voluntary Cooperation, and Self-Governance in a Common-Pool Resource Dilemma

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

2021 Current Directions in Ecological and Social Psychology 2: 100016.


Conventional wisdom (rational choice theory) assumes that individuals are destined to collectively destroy vital ecological systems due to their narrow self-interest. In contrast, Humanistic Rational Choice Theory (HRCT) assumes individuals can cooperatively self-govern, devising effective conservation agreements and governance systems to constrain self-interest for mutual benefit. To test this assumption, we examined the motivational, perceptual, and cooperative outcomes of communication in a resource dilemma experiment. HRCT assumes that poorly managed dilemmas undermine people’s fundamental needs (e.g., procedural justice, security, equity), motivating them to self-govern. Groups that make decisions fairly (e.g., democratically) and enforce their agreements, should satisfy their collective needs better, ensuring better institutional acceptance and trust, thereby improving cooperation and sustainability. Small groups of four (N = 41 groups) harvested valuable resources from a shared pool without communication (Phase 1), with communication (Phase 2), and then without communication (Phase 3). Groups destroyed the resource and reported low need satisfaction during Phase 1. During Phase 2, most groups created governance systems, greatly improving their need satisfaction (ds1.32), trust (d = 2.30), cooperation and resource sustainability (η2=0.87). Democratically governed groups reported the greatest need satisfaction, intrinsic motivation (i.e., institutional internalization and acceptance), and trust, especially if they primarily used positive social sanctions (e.g., praise) to enforce their agreements. Negative sanctions (e.g., shaming, threats) backfired, unless used in democratic groups. These factors accounted for 47% of the variance in Phase 3 voluntary cooperation and resource sustainability. Groups self-governed to collectively satisfy their interdependent fundamental needs.


Taking the discourse seriously: Rational self-interest and resistance to mining in Kyrgyzstan

Ocakli, B., T. Krueger, M.A. Janssen and U. Kasymov

2021 Ecological Economics 189: 107177.


Faced with mounting resistance against mining, neoliberal governance resorts to polarising strategies that delegitimise the heterogenous positions people hold regarding mining. In this paper, we contrast and complicate these dichotomies with the lived experiences on the ground in Kyrgyzstan. We focus on the ‘Taldy-Bulak Levoberezhny’ gold mine near the town of Orlovka that has been lauded by the state and business community as a paragon of company-community ‘cooperation’. We question how the gold mine has come to be an exemplary case of cooperation in a conflict-rife sector. Based on behavioural experiments, surveys, and in-depth inquiry, we follow and unpack entanglements of valuations, discourses and practices that have repackaged Orlovka from a former Soviet mining town in depression into a putative model of progress. Our interdisciplinary account unravels the contradictory processes of re/making extractive frontiers and managing resistance to extractivist expansion that interweave neoliberal practices with nationalist discourses. Beneath the discourses praising Orlovka, we find a community that has never stopped resisting despite consenting to the gold mine. The extractive entanglements we unearth exemplify the diversity of exigencies and aspirations behind resisting, negotiating and/or allowing mining while attesting to the diversified portfolio of tactics that silence and delegitimise these life concerns.


Keeping up shared infrastructure on Port of Mars: An experimental study

Janssen, M.A., L. Gharavi and M. Yichao

2020 International Journal of the Commons 14(1): 404-417.


In this study, we discuss Port of Mars, a new experimental design to study collective action problems in extreme environments under conditions of high uncertainty. The game is situated in the first-generation habitat on Mars, providing an engaging narrative for players to navigate collective action problems. This pilot study finds that most groups are able to avoid the collapse of the habitat, and that the existence of thresholds seems to make groups cooperative. The game demonstrates the initial outcomes of a transdisciplinary project that could provide new ways to study commons governance under high uncertainty.


Drylab 2023: Living a possible future with resource scarcity

Janssen, M.A., A. Jenik, S.Z. Tekola, K. Davis, S. Flores, W. Gibbs, M. Koehn, V. Lyons, C. Mallory, S. Rood, S. Guelpa and L.A. Pfister

2018 Ecology & Society 23 (4):8..


We report on an art and sustainability project, inspired by sustainable living and by the work of Elinor Ostrom, in which the authors experienced a not-too-distant future of water scarcity in an isolated location in the Mojave Desert for four weeks. We restricted our water use to ≤ 15.1 L/day (4 gallons) water per person and consumed a water-wise vegan diet. Here, we report and reflect on our experience of this art and sustainability project. We show that, as participants, we had no difficulty adjusting to a resource-scarce environment or living in a remote location. Our experience showed that (temporary) behavioral change is possible to cope with extreme resource scarcity without a net negative effect on the quality of life. Future replications of such art and sustainability projects in safer environments could become spaces for science, art, and innovation for more sustainable lifestyles.


Managing Household Socio-hydrological Risk in Mexico City: A Game to Communicate and Validate Computational Modeling with Stakeholders

Shelton, R., A. Baeza, M.A. Janssen and H. Eakin

2018 Journal of Environmental Management  227: 200-208.


Residents of Mexico City experience major hydrological risks, including flooding events and insufficient potable water access for many households. A participatory modeling project, MEGADAPT, examines hydrological risk as co-constructed by both biophysical and social factors and aims to explore alternative scenarios of governance. Within the model, neighborhoods are represented as agents that take actions to reduce their sensitivity to exposure and risk. These risk management actions (to protect their households against flooding and scarcity) are based upon insights derived from focus group discussions within various neighborhoods. We developed a role-playing game based on the model’s rules in order to validate the assumptions we made about residents’ decision-making given that we had translated qualitative information from focus group sessions into a quantitative model algorithm. This enables us to qualitatively validate the perspective and experience of residents in an agent-based model mid-way through the modeling process. Within the context of described hydrological events and the causes of these events, residents took on the role of themselves in the game and were asked to make decisions about how to protect their households against scarcity and flooding. After the game, we facilitated a discussion with residents about whether or not the game was realistic and how it could be improved. The game helped to validate our assumptions, validate the model with community members, and reinforced our connection with the community. We then discuss the potential further development of the game as a learning and communication tool.


Playing Games to Save Water: Collective Action Games for Groundwater Management in India

Meinzen-Dick, R., M.A. Janssen, S. Kandikuppa, R. Chaturvedi, K. Rao, and S. Theis

2018 World Development 107: 40-53.


Groundwater is one of the most challenging common pool resources to govern, resulting in resource depletion in many areas. We present an innovative use of collective action games to not only measure propensity for cooperation, but to improve local understanding of groundwater interrelationships and stimulate collective governance of groundwater, based on a pilot study in Andhra Pradesh, India. The games simulate crop choice and consequences for the aquifer. These were followed by a community debriefing, which provided an entry point for discussing the interconnectedness of groundwater use, to affect mental models about groundwater. A slightly modified game was played in the same communities, one year later. Our study finds communication within the game increased the likelihood of groups reaching sustainable extraction levels in the second year of play, but not the first. Individual payments to participants based on how they played in the game had no effect on crop choice. Either repeated experience with the games or the revised structure of the game evoked more cooperation in the second year, outweighing other factors influencing behavior, such as education, gender, and trust index scores. After the games were played, a significantly higher proportion of communities adopted water registers and rules to govern groundwater, compared to other communities in the same NGO water commons program. Because groundwater levels are affected by many factors, games alone will not end groundwater depletion. However, games can contribute to social learning about the role of crop choice and collective action, to motivate behavior change toward more sustainable groundwater extraction.


Using agent-based models to compare behavioral theories on experimental data: Application for irrigation games

Janssen, M.A. and J.A. Baggio

2017 Journal of Environmental Psychology 52: 194-203.


Behavioral experiments have demonstrated that people do cooperate in commons dilemmas. There are alternative theories that are proposed to explain the data. We will use agent-based models to compare alternative behavioral theories on a series of experimental data of irrigation games. The irrigation dilemma captures situations of asymmetric access to common resources while contributions of all participants are needed to maintain the physical infrastructure.

In our model analysis we compare various alternative theories, including naïve simple ones like selfish rational actors and altruistic actors. We contrast these with various alternative behavioral models for collective action as well as inclusion of other-regarding preferences. The systematic comparison of alternative models on experimental data from 44 groups enables us to test which behavioral theories best explain the observed effects of communication. We do not find that one theory clearly outperform others in explaining the data.


When patience leads to destruction: the curious case of individual time preferences and the adoption of destructive fishing gears

Javoid, A., M.A. Janssen, H. Reuter, A. Schlüter

2017 Ecological Economics 142: 91-93.


The use of destructive fishing methods is a serious problem, especially for tropical and developing countries. Due to inter temporal nature of fisheries extraction activities, standard economic theory suggests that an individual’s time preference can play a major role in determining the gear choice decision. Based on earlier theoretical work we identify two ways in which individual time preferences can impact the adoption of destructive extraction methods; (i) the conservation effect which posits that patient individuals (as indicated by relatively high discount factor) are less likely to use destructive extraction methods since they are more likely to account for the loss of future income that is accompanied by using these methods, (ii) the disinvestment effect which argues that patient individuals are more likely to use destructive extraction methods since they have greater investment capability.

Using an agent-based model we clarify the conditions under which one of these effects is more dominant than the other one. Our model suggests that the nature of destructive gear along with the level of social dilemma determines whether patient or impatient individuals (relatively lower discount factor) are more likely to adopt such a gear. Additionally agent’s beliefs regarding future resource condition and other agent’s extraction level can have a major influence in some cases.


Fragility of the provision of local public goods to private and collective risks

Cárdenas, J.C., M.A. Janssen, M. Ale, R. Bastakoti, A.M. Bernal, J. Chalermphol, Y. Gong, H.C. Shin, G. Shivakoti, Y. Wang, J.M. Anderies

2017 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 114(5): 921-925.


Small holder agricultural systems, strongly dependent on water resources and investments in shared infrastructure, make a significant contribution to food security in developing countries. These communities are increasingly integrated in the global economy and are exposed to new global climate-related risks that may affect their willingness to cooperate in community level collective action problems. We performed field experiments on public goods with private and collective risks in 118 small-scale rice producing communities in four countries. Our results indicate that increasing integration of those communities with the broader economic system is associated with lower investments in public goods when facing collective risks. These findings indicate that local public good provision may be negatively affected by collective risks especially if communities are more integrated with the market economy.


Games for Groundwater Governance: Field Experiments in Andhra Pradesh, India

Meinzen-Dick, R., R. Chaturvedi, L. Domenech, R. Ghate, M.A. Janssen, N. Rollins and K. Sandeep

2016 Ecology & Society 21(3):38.


Groundwater is a common-pool resource that is subject to depletion in many places around the world as a result of increased use of irrigation and water-demanding cash crops. Where state capacity to control groundwater use is limited, collective action is important to increase recharge and restrict highly water-consumptive crops. We present results of field experiments in hard rock areas of Andhra Pradesh, India, to examine factors affecting groundwater use. Two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ran the games in communities where they were working to improve watershed and water management. Results indicate that, when the links between crop choice and groundwater depletion is made explicit, farmers can act cooperatively to address this problem. Longer NGO involvement in the villages was associated with more cooperative outcomes in the games. Individuals with more education and higher perceived community social capital played more cooperatively, but neither gender nor method of payment had a significantly effect on individual behavior. When participants could repeat the game with communication, similar crop choice patterns were observed. The games provided an entry point for discussion on the understanding of communities of the interconnectedness of groundwater use and crop choice.


Stimulating Contributions to Public Goods through Information Feedback: Some Experimental Results

Janssen, M.A., A. Lee and H. Sundaram

2016 PLoS ONE 11(7): e0159537. doi:10.1371/journal. pone.0159537.


In traditional public good experiments participants receive an endowment from the experimenter that can be invested in a public good or kept in a private account. In this paper we present an experimental environment where participants can invest time during five days to contribute to a public good. Participants can make contributions to a linear public good by logging into a web application and performing virtual actions. We compared four treatments, with different group sizes and information of (relative) performance of other groups. We find that information feedback about performance of other groups has a small positive effect if we control for various attributes of the groups. Moreover, we find a significant effect of the contributions of others in the group in the previous day on the number of points earned in the current day. Our results confirm that people participate more when participants in their group participate more, and are influenced by information about the relative performance of other groups.


Learning for resilience-based management: Generating hypotheses from a behavioral study

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

2016 Global Environmental Change 37: 69-78.


Encouragement of learning is considered to be central to resilience of social–ecological systems (SESs) to unknown and unforeseeable shocks. However, despite the consensus on the centrality of learning, little research has been done on the details of how learning should be encouraged to enhance adaptive capacity for resilience. This study contributes to bridging this research gap by examining the existing data from a behavioral experiment on SES that involves learning. We generate new hypotheses regarding how learning should be encouraged by comparing the learning processes of human-subject groups that participated in the experiment. Our findings suggest that under environmental stability, groups may be able to perform well without frequent outer-loop (or double-loop) learning. They can still succeed as long as they tightly coordinate on shared strategies along with active monitoring of SESs and user participation in decision-making. However, such groups may be fragile under environmental variability. Only the groups that experience active outer-loop learning and monitoring of SESs are likely to remain resilient under environmental variability.

Keywords: Loop learning; General resilience; Behavioral experiment; Adaptive management; Adaptive co-management; Adaptive governance


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


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


Experimental platforms for behavioral experiments on social-ecological systems

Janssen, M.A., A. Lee, and T. Waring

2014 Ecology and Society 19 (4): 20.


Recently, there has been an increased interest in using behavioral experiments to study hypotheses on the governance of social-ecological systems. A diversity of software tools are used to implement such experiments. We evaluated various publicly available platforms that could be used in research and education on the governance of social-ecological systems. The aims of the various platforms are distinct, and this is noticeable in the differences in their user-friendliness and their adaptability to novel research questions. The more easily accessible platforms are useful for prototyping experiments and for educational purposes to illustrate theoretical concepts. To advance novel research aims, more elaborate programming experience is required to either implement an experiment from scratch or adjust existing experimental software. There is no ideal platform best suited for all possible use cases, but we have provided a menu of options and their associated trade-offs.

Keywords: education; lab experiments; research; software


The effect of constrained communication and limited information in governing a common resource

Janssen, M.A., M. Tyson, and A. Lee

2014 International Journal of the Commons  8(2): 617-635.


Allowing resource users to communicate in behavioural experiments on commons dilemmas increases the level of cooperation. In actual common pool resource dilemmas in the real world, communication is costly, which is an important detail missing from most typical experiments. We conducted experiments where participants must give up harvesting opportunities to communicate. The constrained communication treatment is compared with the effect of limited information about the state of the resource and the actions of the other participants. We find that despite making communication costly, performance of groups improves in all treatments with communication. We also find that constraining communication has a more significant effect than limiting information on the performance of groups.

Keywords: common pool resource, conditional cooperation, costly communication, lab experiments, limited information


Commuter’s Mode Choice as a Coordination Problem: A framed field experiment on traffic policy in Hyderabad, India

Chidambaram, B, M.A. Janssen, J. Rommel, and D. Zikos

2014 Transportation Research A: Policy and Practice 65:9-22.


All major Indian cities face a severe transport crisis, with the number of cars on the road increasing every day. Policy makers are trying to keep pace with this growth by supplying more roads, largely neglecting demand-side policy measures. We have developed an economic experiment to investigate behavioral responses of citizens to such measures. Drawing on a sample of 204 white-collar commuters from Hyderabad, India, we model mode choice as a coordination problem and analyze how bus subsidies, increased parking costs, and public information on preferential car use can affect mode choice. We find that pecuniary treatments are effective for shifting behavior towards socially more desirable outcomes and increasing total benefits. Mode choice is relatively unaffected by socio-economic variables like gender, education or income but is significantly affected by actual traffic behavior. We discuss limitations of the applied sampling, conclude with a critical evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of economic experiments in transportation research, and offer an outlook on how further experimentation could enrich the policy debate.

Keywords: Coordination game; Experimental economics; Hyderabad; India; Mode switching; Public transport


A multi-method approach to study robustness of social-ecological systems: the case of small-scale irrigation systems

Janssen, M.A. and J.M. Anderies

2013 Journal of Institutional Economics 9(4): 427-447.


Elinor Ostrom was a leader in using multiple methods to perform institutional analysis. In this paper, we discuss how a multi-method approach she pioneered may be used to study the robustness of social–ecological systems. We synthesize lessons learned from a series of studies on small-scale irrigation systems in which we use case-study analysis, experimental methods in laboratory and field settings, and mathematical models. The accumulated insights show the importance of creating institutional arrangements that fit the human ecology within the biophysical constraints of the system. The examples of work based on multiple methods approaches presented here highlight several lessons. For example, experimental work helps us better understand the details of how the ability to maintain trust relationships, low levels of inequality, and low transaction costs of coordination are critical for success. Likewise, the integration of case-study analysis and modeling helps us better understand how systems that can leverage biophysical characteristics to help address challenges of monitoring, sanctioning, and coordination may be able to increase their chances of success.


The role of information in governing the commons: experimental results

Janssen, M.A.

2013 Ecology and Society 18 (4): 4.


The structure and dynamics of ecosystems can affect the information available to resource users on the state of the common resource and the actions of other resource users. We present results from laboratory experiments that showed that the availability of information about the actions of other participants affected the level of cooperation. Since most participants in commons dilemmas can be classified as conditional cooperators, not having full information about the actions of others may affect their decisions. When participants had more information about others, there was a more rapid reduction of the resource in the first round of the experiment. When communication was allowed, limiting the information available made it harder to develop effective institutional arrangements. When communication was not allowed, there was a more rapid decline of performance in groups where information was limited. In sum, the results suggest that making information available to others can have an important impact on the conditional cooperation and the effectiveness of communication.

Keywords: common pool resource; communication; conditional cooperation; information; institutions


Environmental variability and collective action: Experimental insights from an irrigation game

Anderies, J.M., M.A. Janssen, A. Lee and H. Wasserman

2013 Ecological Economics 93: 166-176.


Studies of collective action in commons dilemmas in social–ecological systems typically focus on scenarios in which actors all share symmetric (or similar) positions in relation to the common-pool resource. Many common social–ecological systems do not meet these criteria, most notably, irrigation systems. Participants in irrigation systems must solve two related collective action problems: 1) the provisioning of physical infrastructure necessary to utilize the resource (water), and 2) the asymmetric common-pool resource dilemma where the relative positions of “head-enders” and “tail-enders” generate asymmetric access to the resource itself (water). In times of scarcity, head-enders have an incentive to not share water with tail-enders. Likewise, tail-enders have an incentive to not provide labor to maintain the system if they do not receive water. These interdependent incentives may induce a cooperative outcome under favorable conditions. However, how robust is this system of interdependent incentives in the presence of environmental variability that generates uncertainty about water availability either through variation in the water supply itself or through shocks to infrastructure? This paper reports on results from laboratory experiments designed to address this question.

Keywords: Commons dilemmas; Uncertainty; Experiments; Collective action; Irrigation


Predicting Behavior in New Behavioral Experiments: Outcomes of a Modeling Competition

Janssen, M.A. and N.D. Rollins

2012 Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 15 (3) 5.


This paper reports the results of the inaugural modeling competition sponsored by the Network for Computational SocioEcological Sciences (CoMSES Network). Competition participants were provided with a dataset collected from human-subjects experiments and were asked to develop an agent-based model that replicated behavioral patterns reflected in the data with the goal of using the model to predict behavioral changes in a slightly modified experimental treatment. The data were collected in a resource foraging experiment in which human subjects moved avatars on a computer screen to harvest tokens in a common pool resource. In the original experiments, on which the competition participants based their models, the subjects possessed full information about the state of the resource and the actions of the other group members sharing the resource. The competition challenged participants to predict what would happen if the experimental subjects had limited vision. Using only the data from the original experiment, participants had to design a model that would predict the behavioral changes that would be observed in the new experiment treatment. We compared the models on their assumptions about speed, direction, and harvesting decisions agents make. All the submitted models underestimated the amount of resources harvested. The best performing model was the simplest model submitted and had the best fit with the original dataset provided.

Keywords: Pattern-Oriented Modeling, Competition, Calibration, Empirical Data, Behavioral Experiments


Field Experiments of Irrigation Dilemmas

Janssen, M.A., F. Bousquet, J.C. Cardenas, D. Castillo, and K. Worrapimphong

2012 Agricultural Systems 109: 65-75.


It is often assumed that irrigation systems require a central authority to solve coordination problems due to the asymmetry in position and influence between those located at the head-end of a system and those located at the tail-end. However, many examples of complex irrigation systems exist that are self-organized without central coordination. Field experiments on asymmetric commons dilemmas are performed with villagers in rural Colombia and Thailand. Our experiments show that there is a dynamic interaction between equality in the use of the common resource, and the level of the contributions to the creation of a common resource. Inequality in the distribution of benefits in one round triggers lower levels of group contributions, reducing efficiency and triggering even more inequality in contributions and distribution of the resource among players.

The upstream players act as “stationary bandits”. They take more than an equal share of the common resource, but leave sufficient resources for the downstream players to stimulate them to continue their contributions to the public infrastructure.

After 10 rounds, players can vote on one of three allocation rules: equal quota, random and rotating access to appropriation of the resource. The rotating access is most often elected. The resource dynamics in the second part of the experiment depend on the rule elected. With the quota rule, the stationary bandit metaphor is less relevant since taking equal shares of the resource is enforced. With the rotation access rule, the players act strategically on the rotating position. They invest more when having the first access to the resource compared to less favorable access. And when they have first access they extract the main part of the common resource. The rotation rule led to a reduction of the performance of the groups. With the random access rule there is no such strategic investment behavior and participants remain investing equal and similar levels as in the first 10 rounds.

The experiments show that a necessary condition of irrigation systems to self-organize is the development of norms to allocate fair shares of the water in order to recruit sufficient labor to construct and maintain the physical infrastructure. The different allocation rules do not increase efficiency, but they did increase equality of the earnings.

Keywords: Field experiments; Irrigation; Common pool resources; Asymmetry; Trust


Evolution of Cooperation in Asymmetric Commons Dilemmas

Janssen, M.A. and N. Rollins

2012 Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization 81(1): 220-229.


Field experiments with asymmetric commons dilemmas have shown that groups who are able to derive high social efficiency also had higher equity compared to groups who were not able to derive significant levels of social efficiency. These findings resemble the high productivity in long-lasting irrigation systems based on self-governance. We present an agent-based model based on cultural group selection that shows that the patterns observed in the field experiments can be evolved in cases where agents participate regularly in less challenging symmetric public good dilemmas. These results indicate that cooperation in asymmetric dilemmas can evolve and persist when the agents contend with other social dilemmas than the asymmetric dilemmas.

Keywords: Common pool resources; Equity; Asymmetry; Field experiments; Agent-based; Modeling


Coordination and Cooperation in Asymmetric Commons Dilemmas

Janssen, M.A., J.M. Anderies and S. Joshi

2011 Experimental Economics 14(4): 547-566.


In this paper, we discuss laboratory experiments that address the problem of self-governance in an asymmetric commons dilemma. Small-scale irrigation systems that provide food for hundreds of millions of people around the world are probably the most common example of such dilemmas. Here, we formulate an abstract dilemma in which subjects make both a decision about investment in the provision of the infrastructure associated with the use of a resource and about how much to extract from the common-pool resource made available by this infrastructure. The impact of inherent asymmetry in irrigation systems on the provision of a resource and the impact of communication on the capacity of the group to solve the two-level commons dilemma of cooperation and coordination based on the analysis of the experimental data are discussed.

Keywords: Common-pool resources; Asymmetry; Irrigation; Fairness; Real-time experiment


Context matters to explain field experiments: results from Thai and Colombian fishing villages

Castillo, D., F. Bousquet, M.A. Janssen, K. Worrapimphong, and J-C. Cardenas

2011 Ecological Economics 70(9): 1609-1620.


During the last decade, field experiments regarding the study of common pool resource governance have been performed that replicated earlier findings of laboratory experiments. One of the questions is how the decisions made by participants in rural communities are influenced by their experience. This paper presents the results of field experiments in Colombia and Thailand on fishery resources. Context information is derived from the communities via in-depth interviews, surveys and role playing exercises. The use of different methodological tools allowed to link decisions in field experiments with contextual variables for two fishery villages. Explanation of core variables in social dilemmas is given, the degree of cooperation levels, preferred rules, rule compliance and enforcement. Main findings include: i) fishermen made decisions in the field experiments that reflected their own experience and context, ii) agreements for rule crafting are possible only under specific conditions that guarantees livelihoods and sustainability, iii) the broader context determines cooperation levels at a local level, iv) inequalities in the sanctioning of rule breakers decrease the possibilities of reaching cooperation agreements, and v) high levels of trust among local fishermen is not a sufficient condition for resource sustainability, when trust in external rule makers and enforcers is low.

Keywords: Field experiments; Role games; Fisheries; Rules; Cooperation; Trust


Head-enders as stationary bandits in asymmetric commons: Comparing irrigation experiments in the laboratory and the field

Janssen, M.A., J.M. Anderies and J.C. Cardenas

2011 Ecological Economics 70(9): 1590-1598.


The emergence of large-scale irrigation systems has puzzled generations of social scientists, since they are particularly vulnerable to selfish rational actors who might exploit inherent asymmetries in the system (e.g. simply being the head-ender) or who might free ride on the provision of public infrastructure. As part of two related research projects that focus on how subtle social and environmental contextual variables affect the evolution and performance of institutional rules, several sets of experiments have been performed in laboratory settings at Arizona State University and in field settings in rural villages in Thailand and Colombia. In these experiments, participants make both a decision about how much to invest in public infrastructure and how much to extract from the resources generated by that public infrastructure. With both studies we find that head-enders act as stationary bandits. They do take unequal shares of the common-pool resource but if their share is very large relative to downstream participants’ shares, the latter will revolt. Therefore for groups to be successful, head-enders must restrain themselves in their use of their privileged access to the common-pool resource. The comparative approach shows that this result is robust across different social and ecological contexts.

Keywords: Common pool resources; Experimental economics; Asymmetry; Irrigation


The challenge of understanding decisions in experimental studies of common pool resource governance

Anderies, J.M., M. A. Janssen, F. Bousquet, J-C. Cardenas, D. Castillo, M-C. Lopez, R. Tobias, B. Vollan, A. Wutich

2011 Ecological Economics 70 (9): 1571-1579.


Common pool resource experiments in the laboratory and the field have provided insights that have contrasted to those derived from conventional non-cooperative game theory. Contrary to predictions from non-cooperative game theory, participants are sometimes willing to restrain voluntarily from over extracting resources and use costly punishment to sanction other participants. Something as simple as face-to-face communication has been shown to increase average earnings significantly. In the next generation of experiments, both in the laboratory and in the field, we need to extract more information that provides insight concerning why people make the decisions they make. More information is needed concerning attributes of individuals as well as the social and social–ecological context in which they interact that may give rise to such deviations from theoretical predictions. In the process of extracting more information from participants and the contexts in which they interact, we face several methodological and ethical challenges which we address in this paper.

Keywords: Common pool resources; Collective action; Experimental economics; Methodology; Context


Does greater product information actually inform consumer decisions?: The relationship between product information quantity and diversity of consumer decisions

Sasaki, T., D. V. Becker, M.A. Janssen and R. Nee

2011 Journal of Economic Psychology 32(3): 391-398.


For many consumer goods, the advent of online markets dramatically increases the amount of information available about products’ different features and qualities. Although numerous studies have investigated the effects of information quantity on individual-level decisions, it is still unknown how the amount of attribute information affects group-level patterns of behavior, particularly when consumers are also aware of a choice’s popularity. In the present studies, we hypothesized that when attribute information increases, it may exceed the individual’s cognitive capacity to process this information, and as a result conformity – choosing the most popular item – becomes more likely. In this study, we first examined empirical data collected from human subject experiments in a simulated online shopping experience, and then developed an agent-based model (ABM) to explore this behavioral clustering. Both studies confirmed our primary hypotheses, and the ABM shows promise as a tool for exploring extensions of these ideas.

Keywords: Consumer behavior; Decision making; Cognitive processes; Computer simulation


Introducing Ecological Dynamics into Common-Pool Resource Experiments

Janssen, M.A.

2010 Ecology and Society 15 (2): 7.


Case-study analysis shows that long-lasting social–ecological systems have institutional arrangements regulating where, when, and how to appropriate resources instead of how much. Those cases testify to the importance of the fit between ecological and institutional dynamics. Experiments are increasingly used to study decision making, test alternative behavioral models, and test policies. In typical commons dilemma experiments, the only possible decision is how much to appropriate. Therefore, conventional experiments restrict the option to study the interplay between ecological and institutional dynamics. Using a new real-time, spatial, renewable resource environment, we can study the informal norms that participants develop in an experimental resource dilemma setting. Do ecological dynamics affect the institutional arrangements they develop? We find that the informal institutions developed on when, where, and how to appropriate the resource vary with the ecological dynamics in the different treatments. Finally, we find that the amount and distribution of communication messages and not the content of the communication explains the differences between group performances.

Keywords: common-pool resources; communication; institutional innovation; laboratory experiments; problem of fit


Lab Experiments for the Study of Social-Ecological Systems

Janssen, M.A., R. Holahan, A. Lee and E. Ostrom

2010 Science 328: 613-617.


Governance of social-ecological systems is a major policy problem of the contemporary era. Field studies of fisheries, forests, and pastoral and water resources have identified many variables that influence the outcomes of governance efforts. We introduce an experimental environment that involves spatial and temporal resource dynamics in order to capture these two critical variables identified in field research. Previous behavioral experiments of commons dilemmas have found that people are willing to engage in costly punishment, frequently generating increases in gross benefits, contrary to game-theoretical predictions based on a static pay-off function. Results in our experimental environment find that costly punishment is again used but lacks a gross positive effect on resource harvesting unless combined with communication. These findings illustrate the importance of careful generalization from the laboratory to the world of policy.


Pattern-oriented modeling of commons dilemma experiments

Janssen, M.A., N.P. Radtke, A. Lee

2009 Adaptive Behavior 17:508-523.


A major challenge in the development of computational models of collective behavior is the empirical validation. Experimental data from a spatially explicit dynamic commons dilemma experiment is used to empirically ground an agent-based model. Three distinct patterns are identified in the data. Two naïve models, random walk and greedy agents, do not produce data that match the patterns. A more comprehensive model is presented that explains how participants make movement and harvest decisions. Using pattern-oriented modeling the parameter space is explored to identify the parameter combinations that meet the three identified patterns. Less than 0.1% of the parameter combinations meet all the patterns. These parameter settings were used to successfully predict the patterns of a new set of experiments.

Keywords: empirically grounded agent-based modeling; commons dilemma; individual decision making; human experiments


TURFs in the lab: Institutional Innovation in dynamic interactive spatial commons

Janssen, M.A., and E. Ostrom

2008 Rationality and Society 20(4): 371-397.


Using a real-time, spatial, renewable resource environment, we observe participants in a set of experiments formulating informal rules during communication sessions over three decision rounds. In all three rounds, the resource is open access. Without communication, the resource is persistently and rapidly depleted. With face-to-face communication, we observe informal arrangements to divide up space and slow down the harvesting rate in various ways. We observe that experienced participants, who have participated in an earlier experiment where private property was used as one way of controlling harvesting in this renewable resource environment, are more effective in creating rules, although they mimic the private-property regime of their prior experience. Inexperienced participants need an extra round to reach the same level of resource use, but they craft diverse arrays of novel rule sets.

Keywords: common-pool resources; laboratory experiments; communication; institutional innovation


Effect of rule choice in dynamic interactive spatial commons

Janssen, M.A., R.L. Goldstone, F. Menczer and E. Ostrom

2008 International Journal of the Commons 2(2): 288-312.


This paper uses laboratory experiments to examine the effect of an endogenous rule change from open access to private property as a potential solution to overharvesting in commons dilemmas. A novel, spatial, real-time renewable resource environment was used to investigate whether participants were willing to invest in changing the rules from an open access situation to a private property system. We found that half of the participants invested in creating private property arrangements. Groups who had experienced private property in the second round of the experiment, made different decisions in the third round when open access was reinstituted in contrast to groups who experienced three rounds of open access. At the group level, earnings increased in Round 3, but this was at a cost of more inequality. No significant differences in outcomes occurred between experiments where rules were imposed by the experimental design or chosen by participants.

Keywords: system resources, theoretical analysis, Common-pool resources, institutional change, laboratory experiments, open access, private property


Learning, Signaling and Social Preferences in Public Good Games

Janssen, M.A and T.K. Ahn

2006 Ecology and Society 11(2): 21.


This study compares the empirical performance of a variety of learning models and theories of social preferences in the context of experimental games involving the provision of public goods. Parameters are estimated via maximum likelihood estimation. We also performed estimations to identify different types of agents and distributions of parameters. The estimated models suggest that the players of such games take into account the learning of others and are belief learners. Despite these interesting findings, we conclude that a powerful method of model selection of agent-based models on dynamic social dilemma experiments is still lacking.

Keywords: laboratory experiments; public goods; agent-based model; learning; social preferences


Book Chapters

Controlled Behavioral Experiments

Lindahl, T., M.A. Janssen and C. Schill

2021 In Routledge Handbook of Research Methods for Social-Ecological Systems, edited by R. Biggs, A. de Vos, R. Preiser, H. Clements, K. Maciejewski and M. Schlüter , 295-306, Routledge.


Chapter 21 focuses on controlled behavioural experiments, methods that randomly divide participants into different groups (treatments), controlling conditions across these treatments and allowing only the variable of interest to vary. Controlled behavioural experiments are used to test the conditions under which we can expect collective action to emerge. The chapter discusses controlled behavioural experiments in the form of common-pool resource games and public good games. It goes on to discuss the types of social-ecological systems (SES) problems and research questions commonly addressed by this set of methods, as well as their limitations, resource implications and new emerging research directions. The chapter also includes an in-depth case study showcasing the application of controlled behavioural experiments, and suggested further readings on these methods.


An Agent-based Model based on Field Experiments

Janssen, M.A.

2014 In Empirical agent-based-modelling - Challenges and Solutions: Volume 1: The Characterisation and Parameterisation of Empirical Agent-Based Models, edited by A. Smaigl and C. Barreteau, pp. 189-205, Springer.


This chapter described the empirical calibration of a theoretical model based on data from field experiments. Field experiments on irrigation dilemmas were performed to understand how resource users overcome asymmetric collective action problems. The fundamental problem facing irrigation systems is how to solve two related collective action problems: (1) the provision of the physical and ecological infrastructure necessary to utilize the resource (water), and (2) the irrigation dilemma where the relative positions of “head-enders” and “tail-enders” generate a sequential access to the resource itself (water). If actors act as rational, self-interested, agents, it is difficult to understand how irrigation infrastructure would ever be constructed and maintained by the farmers obtaining water from a system as contrasted to a government irrigation bureaucracy. Wittfogel (1957) argued that a central control was indispensable for the functioning of larger irrigation systems and hypothesized that some state-level societies have emerged as a necessary side-effect of solving problems associated with the use of large-scale irrigation.


Comparing Agent-Based Models on Experimental data of Irrigation Games

Baggio, J.A. and M.A. Janssen

2013 In Proceedings of the 2013 Winter Simulation Conference, edited by R. Pasupathy, S.-H. Kim, A. Tolk, R. Hill, and M. E. Kuh, pp.1743-1753, .

Using artificial agents to understand laboratory experiments of common-pool resources with real agents

Jager, A. and M.A. Janssen

2002 In Complexity and Ecosystem Management: The Theory and Practice of Multi-agent Systems, edited by Janssen, M.A., pp. 75-102, Edward Elgar Publishers, Cheltenham UK/ Northampton, MA, USA.


Social Dilemmas Are Only Part of the Story to Explain Overharvesting of Renewable Resources

Janssen, M.A.
2016 CBIE Working paper 2016-002.


We report on experiments with a spatial explicit dynamic resource where individuals make incentivized real-time decisions when and where to harvest the resource units. We test how individuals make decisions when they manage the resource on their own, or share a resource twice the size with another person. We find that most individuals do not harvest resources close to the optimal strategy when they manage the resource individually, and this relates to their understanding of the instructions and their social orientation. Cooperators let resources grow even when there is no social dilemma. In group rounds, there is more overharvesting, especially if participants are selfish and have a low understanding of the instructions. The results show that a better understanding of the motivations of participants is needed to explain the observed behavior.


Cooperation in Asymmetric Commons Dilemmas

Perez, I, J. Baggio, N. Rollins and M.A. Janssen
2012 CSID Working paper #CSID_2012-012


This paper is a study of collective action in asymmetric access to a common resource. An example is an irrigation system with upstream and downstream resource users. While both contribute to the maintenance of the common infrastructure, the upstream participant has rst access to the resource. Results of our two-player asymmetric commons game show that privileged resource access player invest more than the downstream players. Investments by the downstream player into the common resource are rewarded by a higher share from the common resource by the upstream player. Decisions are mainly explained by the levels of trust and trustworthiness. Introducing uncertainty in the production function of the common resource did not aect the results in a signicant way.


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