Penn Social Norms Group (PennSoNG)

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Book Chapter



Publication Source

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

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The experimental literature on social dilemmas has long documented the positive effect of communication on cooperation. Sally (1995), in a meta-analysis spanning thirty-five years of Prisoner's Dilemma experiments, shows that the possibility of communicating significantly increases cooperation. Social psychologists have explained such a finding by hypothesizing that the act of communicating contributes to promoting trust by creating empathy among participants (see Loomis (1959), Desforges et al. (1991), Davis and Perkowitz (1979)). Bicchieri (2002, 2006), in a different perspective, puts forward a focusing function of communication hypothesis, according to which communication can focus agents on shared rules of behavior and - when it does focus them on pro-social ones - generates a normative environment which is conducive to cooperation. More specifically, when individuals face an unfamiliar situation, they need cues to under-stand how best to act and, for this reason, they check whether some behavioral rule they are aware of applies to the specific interaction. The effect of communication is to make a behavioral rule situational/y salient, that is, communication causes a shift in an individual's focus towards the strategies dictated by the now-salient rule. In doing so, communication also coordinates players' mutual expectations about which strategies will be chosen by the parties. In other words, (under some conditions) communication elicits social norms.

Copyright/Permission Statement

This material has been published in The Prisoner's Dilemma edited by Martin Peterson. This version is free to view and download for personal use only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Cambridge University Press.



Date Posted: 27 February 2017