Department of Economics and Business Economics

Institutional quality shapes cooperation with out-group strangers

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  • Marco Fabbri, Amsterdam Center for Law and Economics

Humans display a puzzling cross-population variation in the ability to cooperate with out-group members. One hypothesis is that impartial institutions substituting kith and kin as risk-buffering providers would favor the expansion of cooperative networks. Here I propose a research design that overcomes the endogeneity between institutions and preferences, making it possible to isolate the causal effects of institutional quality on out-group cooperation. I study a land tenure reform implemented as a randomized control-trial in hundreds of Beninese villages. The reform reduces the village community's discretion in regulating members' access to land by granting formal legal protection to individual rights-holders. Using a lab-in-the-field incentivized experiment (N = 576), I show that the reform significantly increases participants' cooperation with anonymous strangers from other villages. The results illustrate how humans' investments in in-group and out-group relationships are sensitive to cost-benefit evaluations, and emphasize that the institutional environment is a key driver of large-scale human cooperation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Pages (from-to)53-70
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

    Research areas

  • Cultural Evolution, In-group Favoritism, Lab-in-the-field Experiment, Material Security Hypothesis, Multilevel Public Goods Game, Parochialism, EVOLUTION, CULTURE, MARKETS, STRESS, TRUST, SIZE

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