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The origin of hierarchies and their effect on cooperation

The origin of hierarchies and their effect on cooperation

A few years ago, Katie Cronin, Dan Acheson, Penélope Hernández and myself showed that when a hierarchy is present in a human group, such that rewards from collaborative work are distributed according to that hierarchy, cooperation decreases (this paper). Now, again with Katie, but this time involving Alberto Antonioni, María Pereda and Marco Tomassini, we have carried out new experiments and observe that if the hierarchy or ranking originates from collaborative interactions, it is not detrimental for cooperation anymore. The paper is just out in Scientific Reports and compares a situation in which people have to obtain their ranking from their contributions to public goods games with another in which ranking arises primarily from their group performance. The results are clear and show that subjects interpret rankings as a reputation, i.e., as information about which subjects were cooperators in the interaction that led to the ranking. This points to the origin of hierarchy as a key factor to understand how cooperation can survive in highly stratified societies like ours.

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