Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Olga Shurchkov


A strong cooperative culture, where individuals contribute to social causes and refrain from selfishly overusing existing common resources, is central to the well-being of any society. However, the degree of cooperation and the enforcement mechanisms in place to sustain cooperative behaviors vary dramatically across countries. This paper investigates the impact of institutions on social cooperation. Furthermore, we explore the way in which the framing of a decision interacts with institutional norms to result in different levels of cooperation. We run a controlled laboratory experiment in which participants are randomly exposed to either a “strong” or “weak” institutional environment and then asked to participate in a social dilemma, modeled as a public goods game and framed as either “giving” to or “taking” from a common project. Experimental results indicate that institutions have an impact on cooperative behavior in the social dilemma. Specifically, we find that participants exposed to a strong institution cooperate at a higher rate than participants assigned to a weak institution condition, and that these differences increase over time through learning. Further, we find that being in the taking frame generates higher rates of free-riding in the public goods game, relative to the giving frame, although it is not significantly related to the total level of contributions to a common project. Finally, we find that the interaction of framing and institutional history has a significant impact on cooperation specifically through free-riding in the public goods game.