Human Ecology

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 371–386

The commons dilemma: A simulation testing the effects of resource visibility and territorial division

  • Robert C. Cass
  • Julian J. Edney

DOI: 10.1007/BF00889415

Cite this article as:
Cass, R.C. & Edney, J.J. Hum Ecol (1978) 6: 371. doi:10.1007/BF00889415


In a commons dilemma laboratory analog subjects were allowed individually to draw valuable points from a slowly regenerating pool. Subjects participated in groups of four and faced the dilemma of either rapidly drawing a large number of points for themselves (but thereby destroying the pool), or limiting their own harvesting so that the pool would regenerate, benefiting the group. All subjects were, in addition, informed of the optimum strategy for harvesting before the game began, but results showed that this strategy was rarely used. Two factors were added to the basic game: (1) dividing the resource pool into individual harvesting territories, and (2) making the varying levels of resources visible. Each of these increased the harvest and production of the resource, but only territoriality increased the supply. Only when both factors were applied together did the groups approach the optimal harvesting strategy earlier spelled out to them. Possible mediating variables and applications are discussed.

Key words

resource management commons dilemma social trap territoriality 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert C. Cass
    • 1
  • Julian J. Edney
    • 2
  1. 1.University of HoustonHouston
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityTempe

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