Transition from reciprocal cooperation to persistent behaviour in social dilemmas at the end of adolescence Articles uri icon

publication date

  • July 2014


  • 4362


  • 5

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2041-1723


  • While human societies are extraordinarily cooperative in comparison with other social species, the question of why we cooperate with unrelated individuals remains open. Here we report results of a lab-in-the-field experiment with people of different ages in a social dilemma. We find that the average amount of cooperativeness is independent of age except for the elderly, who cooperate more, and a behavioural transition from reciprocal, but more volatile behaviour to more persistent actions towards the end of adolescence. Although all ages react to the cooperation received in the previous round, young teenagers mostly respond to what they see in their neighbourhood regardless of their previous actions. Decisions then become more predictable through midlife, when the act of cooperating or not is more likely to be repeated. Our results show that mechanisms such as reciprocity, which is based on reacting to previous actions, may promote cooperation in general, but its influence can be hindered by the fluctuating behaviour in the case of children. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.


  • Mathematics


  • adolescent; adolescent behavior; adult; age distribution; aged; article; controlled study; cooperation; female; groups by age; human; male; neighborhood; normal human; probability; sex difference; social behavior