Social Justice Research

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 1–22 | Cite as

Justice Sensitivity and Cooperation Dynamics in Repeated Public Good Games

  • Thomas Schlösser
  • Sebastian Berger
  • Detlef Fetchenhauer


It is frequently observed that despite individual incentives to free ride, humans decide to cooperate with each other to increase social payoffs. In the current research, we address the effects of individual differences in justice sensitivity on cooperation. Using incentivized repeated public good games, we find that individual differences in justice sensitivity—the ease of perceiving, remembering, and reacting to injustice from the perspectives of an observer, beneficiary, or perpetrator, but not victim—substantially predicts cooperation in the absence of a punishment option. In contrast, when costly punishment is allowed for, cooperation becomes strategic as it also aims at avoiding subsequent punishment. If such a sanctioning mechanism is in place, justice sensitivity no longer predicts cooperation. The results regarding the degree of cooperation as reaction to initial non-cooperation of one’s counterparts highlight the role of justice-concerning personality traits for the sufficient provision of public goods, as sanctioning institutions are not always possible, effective, or suitable.


Social dilemma Public goods game Punishment Justice sensitivity Personality Heterogeneity 

JEL Classification

C71 C72 C73 C91 C92 D70 H41 



We thank Simon Gächter for providing us with the original z-Tree files of the public good games; Sandra Kieser and Katharina Schneider for help in data collection; Mario Gollwitzer, Mattia Nardotto as well as Christoph Feldhaus for support regarding data analysis and presentation. Financial support by the German Research Foundation (DFG) is gratefully acknowledged by Schlösser and Fetchenhauer (Grant Nos. FE-1017/2-1, FE-1017/2-2) and all authors (CLER, Cologne Laboratory for Economic Research).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Thomas Schlösser declares that he has no conflict of interest. Sebastian Berger declares that he has no conflict of interest. Detlef Fetchenhauer declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the National Research Committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Schlösser
    • 1
  • Sebastian Berger
    • 2
  • Detlef Fetchenhauer
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Sociology and Social PsychologyUniversity of CologneCologneGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Organization and Human Resource ManagementUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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