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Communication trumps penalties in new study of social-ecological systems
Date:4/29/2010

TEMPE, Ariz. Research conducted in a computerized microworld by scientists at Arizona State University and Indiana University, including Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, show how common-pool resources such as fisheries, forests, water systems or even bandwidth can be managed effectively by self-organized user groups under certain conditions.

The findings are published April 30 in the journal Science.

"We use different experiments with specially designed computer simulation games that include costly fines, communication, a combination of both and a period where neither punishment nor communication is allowed. These experiments help us identify which variables increase the level of cooperation," says Marco Janssen, social science modeler at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the study's lead author.

The experiments involve a timed computer game played simultaneously by college students in a lab. The students sit in individual cubicles and have their own avatars in the game. They go about individually "harvesting" a resource in this case, colored dots in an experimental environment, along with the other players. If they harvest them too fast, the resource runs out and the game ends. If they manage them sustainably, the dots regenerate, allowing them to harvest more and earn more points. The more points the students have, the more they are paid real dollars at the end, creating an incentive for them to take the game seriously, explains Janssen.

To do well requires the participants to monitor their own behavior, but also to be mindful of what the others are doing, Janssen notes. In some cases, the players are allowed a brief opportunity to communicate via chat rooms to strategize and make decisions regarding where and when to harvest resources, or collect tokens. They also determine whether or not to impose costly fines for overuse of resources by a member
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Contact: Carol Hughes
carol.hughes@asu.edu
480-965-6375
Arizona State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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