Reciprocity and Large-scale Cooperation: Evidence from the Field

Brahm, F, Loch, C and Riquelme, C (2023) Reciprocity and Large-scale Cooperation: Evidence from the Field. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2023 (1). ISSN 2151-6561


Direct reciprocity—cooperating with others if they have cooperated in the past—catalyzes cooperation in dyads but may be ineffective when it comes to sustaining large-scale cooperation. In contrast, indirect reciprocity—cooperating with others if they have a cooperative reputation, gained from their past cooperation with third parties—can sustain large-scale cooperation in humans but is more complex and subtle and could therefore be unreliable. Thus, the relation between reciprocity and large-scale cooperation is yet to be fully understood. This field study analyzes cooperation of workers volunteering to help colleagues and, focusing on the growth of the group of volunteers, it documents two findings: (1) indirect reciprocity does not support large-scale cooperation as a result of decreasing returns in the reputational benefits that volunteers receive; and (2) contrary to received wisdom but consistent with recent theoretical models, modifying the population structure (via a pre-registered field experiment), so that direct reciprocity is boosted, is conducive to large-scale cooperation. Our results add experimental evidence from the field to a lab-dominated literature and may generalize to additional settings because volunteering is widespread and important in society.

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Item Type: Article
Subject Areas: Strategy and Entrepreneurship
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© 2023 Academy of Management

Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2024 17:26
Subjects: Behavioural theories of management
Business networks
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2024 17:41

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