Environmental Management

, Volume 2, Issue 6, pp 491–507 | Cite as

The commons dilemma

A review of contributions from psychology
  • Julian J. Edney
  • Christopher S. Harper


Whenever a short-term or local need in the exploitation of a scarce natural resource must be pitted against its long-term use or the needs of the larger community, the commons dilemma arises. The study of commons dilemmas originated in agricultural economies but has importance in all resource management areas. Psychologists have recently found it to be a useful paradigm in the study of decision-making behavior.

This paper reviews the commons dilemma as it has been used in three areas of psychological research: games theory, animal and human territorial behavior, and behavior reinforcement. In the first area, results show how communication within groups operates in cooperation/competition situations. In the second, the effects of social and political ideologies are examined. In the third, the implications of the commons dilemma with regard to breaking out of “social traps” are discussed. Throughout, the relevance of this basic psychological research to rational resource management is made clear. An extensive bibliography of relevant original research is provided.

Key words

Environmental psychology Behavior Games theory Reinforcement Competition 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julian J. Edney
    • 1
  • Christopher S. Harper
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyArizona State UniversityTempe

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