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Introducing Ecological Dynamics into Common-Pool Resource Experiments

Marco A Janssen, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University

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Case-study analysis shows that long-lasting social–ecological systems have institutional arrangements regulating where, when, and how to appropriate resources instead of how much. Those cases testify to the importance of the fit between ecological and institutional dynamics. Experiments are increasingly used to study decision making, test alternative behavioral models, and test policies. In typical commons dilemma experiments, the only possible decision is how much to appropriate. Therefore, conventional experiments restrict the option to study the interplay between ecological and institutional dynamics.

Using a new real-time, spatial, renewable resource environment, we can study the informal norms that participants develop in an experimental resource dilemma setting. Do ecological dynamics affect the institutional arrangements they develop? We find that the informal institutions developed on when, where, and how to appropriate the resource vary with the ecological dynamics in the different treatments. Finally, we find that the amount and distribution of communication messages and not the content of the communication explains the differences between group performances.

Key words

common-pool resources; communication; institutional innovation; laboratory experiments; problem of fit
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087