Journal of Economics

, Volume 102, Issue 3, pp 237–262 | Cite as

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 



Wewould like to thank Florian Herold, Simon Gächter, Aljaž Ule and Seminar Participants at CREED, University of Amsterdam, for helpful comments. Traxler acknowledges financial support by the European Network for the Advancement of Behavioural Economics (ENABLE).

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution,and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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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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