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United States President Donald Trump sparked outrage last year when he announced that the US would pull out of the Paris climate agreement. The decision frustrated world leaders because it undermined the process of global cooperation, setting a bad precedent for future agreements to unify countries in the effort to avoid climate disaster.
This is an example of a very common social dilemma, called a common-pool resource (CPR) dilemma. When a natural resource is open access, such as fish in a lake, everyone has to limit the amount they take individually in order to sustain the resource over the long term.
People - Example - Climate - Agreement - Resource
But if some people don't cooperate, for example by overfishing or pulling out of a global climate agreement, they risk collapsing the resource for everyone else, leading others to follow suit.
Our research, published today in Nature Human Behaviour, found that some six-year-old children are capable of cooperating to sustain a CPR dilemma using strategies resembling those of the most successful real-world solutions by adults.
1960s - Economists - Type - Dilemma - Traps
Back in the 1960s, economists believed this type of environmental dilemma to be unsolvable, famously labelling these competitive traps as the tragedy of the commons.
More recent work by Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom tells us that we do actually have the social skills necessary to cooperate and avoid environmental tragedy, when we can communicate and come to fair agreements about how a resource should be divided.
Solutions - Dilemmas - Outcomes - Behaviour - Conditions
If we fail to find cooperative solutions to these dilemmas, we risk facing disastrous environmental outcomes. Understanding our behaviour and the conditions that are most likely to lead to cooperation could better prepare us to create solutions in the future.
For this reason, myself and my colleague, Esther Herrmann, at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, recently set out to explore the roots of human behaviour in CPR dilemmas.
We looked at...
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