Cultural Norms: Transmitted Behaviors or Adaptive Responses?
Social and Cultural Anthropology
Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies
Work, Economy and Organizations
Economic game experiments have become a prominent method among social scientists developing and testing theories of cooperation. These games provide a valuable opportunity to generate measures of cooperation that can be compared from one place to the next, yet challenges remain in how to interpret cross-cultural differences in these experiments and connect them to cooperation in naturally occurring contexts. I address these challenges by examining framing effects in public goods games (PGGs) with salmon fishers and reindeer herders in Kamchatka, Russia. Combining standard versions of the game with versions that refer to post-Soviet institutions coordinating fishing and herding, I show that (1) average contributions in the PGG in Kamchatka are substantially higher than reported elsewhere and (2) framing the PGG alters the relationship between contributions and expectations, shifting strategies away from unconditional generosity and toward conditional cooperation. My analysis, by synthesizing quantitative analysis of PGG data with long-term qualitative ethnography, including extensive postgame interviews with participants, supports the notion that cooperation in economic games increases along with cultural norms, values, and institutions that emerge from economic interdependence. Framing effects suggest that researchers should devote more attention to investigating the relationship between contributions and expectations.