Journal of Economics

, Volume 102, Issue 3, pp 237–262

Social norms and the indirect evolution of conditional cooperation

Open Access


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 cooperation Indirect evolution Social norms Heterogenous environments 

JEL Classification

C70 Z13 

Copyright information

© 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

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