Monday, April 06, 2015

between-group competition, intra-group cooperation and relative performance


frontiersin |  We report the results of a new public goods experiment with an intra-group cooperation dilemma and inter-group competition. In our design subjects receive information about their relative individual and group performance after each round with non-incentivized and then incentivized group competition. We found that, on average, individuals with low relative performance reduce their contributions to the public good, but groups with low performance increase theirs. With incentivized competition, where the relative ranking of the group increases individual payoffs, the reaction to relative performance is larger with individuals contributing more to the group; further, we observe that the variance of strategies decreases as individual and group rankings increase. These results offer new insights on how social comparison shapes similar reactions in games with different incentives for group performance and how competition and cooperation can influence each other.

1. Introduction Collective action most likely evolved as a survival group strategy to overcome challenges and threats difficult to surpass individually. Achieving collective action, however, requires solving the problem of incentives within the group, namely, the conflict among individuals who would be better materially if they reap the benefits of cooperation by others but do not assume the cost. Groups with higher levels of cooperation, on the other hand, could reproduce their strategies more successfully making them more competitive against other groups. This competition among groups over scarce resources decreases the within-group conflict at the cost of raising the between-group conflict1

One particular condition shaping competition is the availability of information on individual and group performance. When these informational sets are independently provided, the feedback at the group level decreases the salience of selfish incentives, increasing within-group cooperation (Burton-Chellew and West, 2012) at the cost of additional between-group conflict. However, subjects' reaction to the simultaneous provision of individual and group ranking has been rather unexplored. By receiving simultaneous feedback on individual and group performance subjects may develop richer responses to their relative success with respect to other group members but also to their group's success with respect to other groups, especially in presence of competition for additional resources. These different incentives bring a complex interaction of cooperation and conflict. One individual's higher relative performance could increase her individual payoffs at the expense of reducing the relative performance of her group, and thus harming the group's relative performance which in turn would decrease her individual payoffs.