Journal of Economics

, Volume 102, Issue 3, pp 237–262

Social norms and the indirect evolution of conditional cooperation

Open AccessArticle

DOI: 10.1007/s00712-010-0173-9

Cite this article as:
Traxler, C. & Spichtig, M. J Econ (2011) 102: 237. doi:10.1007/s00712-010-0173-9


We develop a model of social norms and cooperation in large societies. Within this framework we use an indirect evolutionary approach to study the endogenous formation of preferences and the co-evolution of norm compliance. The multiplicity of equilibria, which emerges in the presence of social norms, is linked to the evolutionary analysis: individuals face situations where many others cooperate as well as situations where a majority free-rides. The evolutionary adaptation to such heterogenous environments favors conditional cooperators, who condition their pro-social behavior on the others’ cooperation. As conditional cooperators react flexibly to their social environment, they dominate free-riders as well as unconditional cooperators.


Conditional cooperationIndirect evolutionSocial normsHeterogenous environments

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© The Author(s) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective GoodsBonnGermany
  2. 2.Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands