Experimental Economics

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 44–69 | Cite as

Strong, bold, and kind: self-control and cooperation in social dilemmas

  • Martin G. Kocher
  • Peter Martinsson
  • Kristian Ove R. Myrseth
  • Conny E. Wollbrant
Original Paper


We develop a model that relates self-control to cooperation patterns in social dilemmas, and we test the model in a laboratory public goods experiment. As predicted, we find a robust association between stronger self-control and higher levels of cooperation, and the association is at its strongest when the decision maker’s risk aversion is low and the cooperation levels of others high. We interpret the pattern as evidence for the notion that individuals may experience an impulse to act in self-interest—and that cooperative behavior benefits from self-control. Free-riders differ from other contributor types only in their tendency not to have identified a self-control conflict in the first place.


Experiment Public good Self-control Cooperation Risk 


C91 D03 H40 



Financial support from the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), from Formas through the program Human Cooperation to Manage Natural Resources (COMMONS), and the Ideenfonds of the University of Munich is gratefully acknowledged. For valuable comments and suggestions, we thank Enrique Fatas, Amrei Marie Lahno, Kei Tsutsui, Lise Vesterlund, two anonymous referees, and seminar participants at the EWEBE Workshop 2011 in Munich; the CESifo Behavioral Economics Area Conference in Munich 2012; the Economic Science Association World Meeting in New York 2012; Victoria University Wellington; Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane; Zeppelin University; the Science of Philanthropy Conference 2013, Chicago; the University of Stavanger; Aarhus University; the Econometric Society Meeting 2014, Philadelphia; and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

Supplementary material

10683_2015_9475_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (338 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 339 kb)
10683_2015_9475_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (65 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 66 kb)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin G. Kocher
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Peter Martinsson
    • 2
  • Kristian Ove R. Myrseth
    • 3
  • Conny E. Wollbrant
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of MunichMunichGermany
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of GothenburgGöteborgSweden
  3. 3.School of ManagementUniversity of St AndrewsSt AndrewsUK
  4. 4.School of Economics and FinanceQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

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