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Social learning strategies and cooperative behaviour: Evidence of payoff bias, but not prestige or conformity, in a social dilemma game

Watson, Robin and Morgan, Thomas J. H. and Kendal, Rachel L. and Van de Vyver, Julie and Kendal, Jeremy (2021) 'Social learning strategies and cooperative behaviour: Evidence of payoff bias, but not prestige or conformity, in a social dilemma game.', Games, 12 (4). p. 89.


Human cooperation, occurring without reciprocation and between unrelated individuals in large populations, represents an evolutionary puzzle. One potential explanation is that cooperative behaviour may be transmitted between individuals via social learning. Using an online social dilemma experiment, we find evidence that participants’ contributions were more consistent with payoff-biased transmission than prestige-biased transmission or conformity. We also found some evidence for lower cooperation (i) when exposed to social information about peer cooperation levels than without such information, and (ii) in the prisoners’ dilemma game compared to the snowdrift game. A simulation model established that the observed cooperation was more likely to be caused by participants’ general propensity to cooperate than by the effect of social learning strategies employed within the experiment, but that this cooperative propensity could be reduced through selection. Overall, our results support previous experimental evidence indicating the role of payoff-biased transmission in explaining cooperative behaviour, but we find that this effect was small and was overwhelmed by participants’ general propensity for cooperation.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
Date accepted:21 November 2021
Date deposited:13 December 2021
Date of first online publication:23 November 2021
Date first made open access:13 December 2021

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