Comparing the Effectiveness of Regulation and Pro-Social Emotions to Enhance Cooperation: Experimental Evidence from Fishing Communities in Colombia

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This paper presents the results from a series of framed field experiments that were conducted in two fishing communities on two islands along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The experiments were designed to compare the effectiveness in promoting efficient choices of social emotions, particularly guilt and shame, vis-a-vis externally-imposed regulatory controls. We are mainly interested in the value of external regulatory pressure to promote efficiency in environmental and natural resource settings in the developing world.

Our notions of guilt and shame come from similar definitions employed by Bowles and Gintis (2003), Elster (1989, 1998), Hollander (1990), and Kandel and Lazear (1992). We define guilt as an internal penalty, or disutility, that one experiences when her non-cooperative behavior is not known by others in a society, whereas shame occurs when anonymity is removed and the individual's behavior is revealed to others. (1) The key distinguishing feature between the two is that shame depends on the public revelation of individual behavior, whereas guilt does not. Of course, guilt and shame have positive opposites--an individual may feel a sense of pride that comes from knowing that she has been cooperative and that feeling may be accentuated when her cooperative behavior is known to the rest of her community. These emotions can enhance cooperative behavior because they produce either internal sanctions for non-cooperative behavior or internal rewards for cooperation. Such cooperation-enhancing emotions are often called pro-social emotions (Bowles and Gintis 2003).

Our work is closely related to other experimental studies that suggest that the desire to avoid social disapproval or gain social approval can enhance cooperative behavior. Gachter and Fehr (1999) show that avoiding social disapproval and peer pressure can induce cooperation when combined with some familiarity among subjects. Masclet et al. (2003) implemented a point system that individuals could use to express a degree of disapproval. Use of this system did not entail costs for those assigning points or receiving points. (2) This simple way of communicating disapproval increased contributions to the public good. Rege and Telle (2004) find that the simple identification of subjects and their contributions to a public good, without giving other group members the ability to express approval or disapproval, tends to increase contributions in a one-shot public good game. (3) In contrast, Noussair and Tucker (2007) suggest that the positive effects of publicly revealing individuals' contributions may rapidly deteriorate over time.

The traditional response to correcting externalities generated by the divergence between individual and social well being is to impose regulatory control to induce more efficient individual decisions. There is a significant literature on the effectiveness and efficiency of regulatory control--typically fixed quotas with some exogenous enforcement apparatus--on behavior in common property and public good games. This literature suggests that regulatory controls may not be effective at meeting the goal of increasing cooperative behavior. Ostmann (1998) finds that external regulation and enforcement financed by experiment participants only reduces harvests from a common pool by a small amount relative to a regulation-free environment. Beckenkamp and Ostmann (1999) report that high sanctions can cause overuse because subjects may perceive the high sanction as unfair. Cardenas, Stranlund, and Willis (2000) find that a quota supported by weak enforcement is effective in initial rounds, but the effectiveness of the regulation quickly erodes. Ostrom (2000) discusses how enforcement of externally-imposed rules may crowd out endogenous cooperative behavior because it may discourage the formation of social norms to solve the dilemma and at the same time may encourage players to cheat the system. …