- PNAS Nexus Journal
- January 2023
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Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)
- Previous research suggests that it is difficult to maintain cooperation in a large society when there is a strong hierarchical structure. In this study, we implement online human experiments to study the effects of exogenous variation in a particular notion of hierarchy on cooperation and conflict within groups. We demonstrate how cooperation can be maintained when collective action is accompanied by dyadic conflicts whose outcome feeds back on the hierarchical rank of the contestants. We find that the majority of individuals take part in conflicts and that highly ranked individuals mostly cooperate and engage in conflicts as a way to punish noncooperators. As a consequence, stable hierarchical groups can arise and maintain high levels of cooperation. Our results are in agreement with the prediction of earlier theoretical models on hierarchical societies and are relevant to understanding the interplay of hierarchy, cooperation, and conflict.
- cooperation; hierarchies; behavioral economics; online experiments