Sebastian Prediger / Björn Vollan / Benedikt Herrmann

Resource Scarcity, Spite and Cooperation

GIGA Working Paper, No. 227, June 2013

Abstract
Using an experimental approach, this paper examines how scarcity of natural resources affects people’s readiness to cooperate or engage in antisocial behavior. The experiments were carried out with pastoralists from southern Namibia, whose livelihoods greatly depend on grazing availability on collectively used rangelands. We split the study region into two areas according to exogenous differences in biomass production (a high‐yield and a low‐yield area) and conducted a one‐shot public goods experiment and a joy‐of‐destruction experiment with pastoralists from both areas. Results from the joy‐of‐destruction experiment reveal that a substantial proportion of people are willing to reduce another subject’s income, although this comes at a personal cost. We show that this kind of spiteful behavior occurs twice as often in the area where resources are scarcer and hence competitive pressure is higher. By contrast, levels of cooperation are very similar across areas. This indicates that scarcity does not hamper cooperation, at least as long as a subsurvival level has not been exceeded. Our data further reveal a coexistence of prosocial and antisocial behavior within individuals, suggesting that people’s motivations depend on the experimental environment they are acting in. One possible explanation is that subjects are ready to cooperate when substantial net gains can be realized, but turn into spiteful money burners when there is no scope for efficiency improvements and the risk of "falling behind" is particularly salient.

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GIGA AutorInnen

Dr. Sebastian Prediger ist Ökonom am GIGA Institut für Afrika-­Studien und Lehrbeauftragter an der Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg.

Aktuelle Publikationen der AutorInnen

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Universal love or one true religion? Experimental evidence of the ambivalent effect of religious ideas on altruism and discrimination

American Journal of Political Science, online first, 2019

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The Ambivalent Role of Religion for Sustainable Development: A Review of the Empirical Evidence

GIGA Working Paper, No. 297, February 2017

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Die Migrationspolitik der EU in Afrika braucht einen Richtungswechsel

GIGA Focus Afrika, 06/2016

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SMARTer indicators for decent work in a post-2015 development agenda: A proposal

International Labour Review, 154, 2015, 3, 285-302