Research Article: Cooperation, decision time, and culture: Online experiments with American and Indian participants

Date Published: February 23, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Akihiro Nishi, Nicholas A. Christakis, David G. Rand, Naoki Masuda.


Two separate bodies of work have examined whether culture affects cooperation in economic games and whether cooperative or non-cooperative decisions occur more quickly. Here, we connect this work by exploring the relationship between decision time and cooperation in American versus Indian subjects. We use a series of dynamic social network experiments in which subjects play a repeated public goods game: 80 sessions for a total of 1,462 subjects (1,059 from the United States, 337 from India, and 66 from other countries) making 13,560 decisions. In the first round, where subjects do not know if connecting neighbors are cooperative, American subjects are highly cooperative and decide faster when cooperating than when defecting, whereas a majority of Indian subjects defect and Indians decide faster when defecting than when cooperating. Almost the same is true in later rounds where neighbors were previously cooperative (a cooperative environment) except decision time among Indian subjects. However, when connecting neighbors were previously not cooperative (a non-cooperative environment), a large majority of both American and Indian subjects defect, and defection is faster than cooperation among both sets of subjects. Our results imply the cultural background of subjects in their real life affects the speed of cooperation decision-making differentially in online social environments.

Partial Text

Cooperation among non-kin is central to human societies [1]. Among many approaches to study cooperation, two that have received considerable attention in recent years are the exploration of cross-cultural differences and the investigation of decision times. A large body of evidence indicates that cooperation rates can vary substantially across countries and cultures [2–13]. In particular, a subject’s cooperation in economic game experiments is typically positively related to the quality of institutions under which that subject lives [3, 9–11], perhaps due (at least in part) to the observation that strong institutions foster the development of prosocial norms [10, 12].

First, we report the cooperation rate of the subjects from the United States and India (Fig 1). In an unknown environment, the cooperation rate is 75.4% for those from the United States and 44.8% for those from India (P < 0.001) (Fig 1a, left). In a cooperative environment (i.e., after the first round), it is 88.0% for those from the United States and 36.9% for those from India (P < 0.001) (Fig 1a, middle), while, in a non-cooperative environment, it is 18.9% for those from the United States and 11.0% for those from India (P = 0.151) (Fig 1a, right). In sum, the American subjects are more cooperative than the Indian subjects across all the different environments in our experimental setting (although, unsurprisingly, this difference was much less pronounced in the non-cooperative environment where defection is normative based on the principle of reciprocity). In our experimental setting, we found marked differences between American and Indian subjects in cooperation, and in the relationship between cooperation and decision time. The American subjects are likely to be initially cooperative, and to keep cooperating at later rounds as long as neighbors are cooperative, but to switch to defection when neighbors defect. As per the conflictedness account of decision times, cooperation is therefore faster in the first round and in cooperative environments at later rounds, while defection is faster in non-cooperative environments.   Source:


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