Extensions of the prisoner's dilemma paradigm: The altruist's dilemma and group solidarity

Sociological Theory 9 (1):34-52 (1991)
Many recent studies of norm emergence employ the "prisoner's dilemma" (PD) paradigm, which focuses on the free-rider problem that can block the cooperation required for the emergence of social norms. This paper proposes an expansion of the PD paradigm to include a closely related game termed the "altruist's dilemma" (AD). Whereas egoistic behavior in the PD leads to collectively irrational outcomes, the opposite is the case in the AD: altruistic behavior (e.g., following the Golden Rule) leads to collectively irrational outcomes, whereas egoistic behavior leads to Pareto-optimal outcomes. The analysis shows that PDs can be converted into ADs either by increasing cooperation costs or by diminishing marginal gains from cooperation; therefore ADs are as empirically abundant as PDs. In addition, the analysis shows that altruists are not the only type of actors who fall prey to the AD; egoists can fall into this trap as well if they possess a capacity for interpersonal control. Where group solidarity is defined analytically in terms of the extent of cooperation in both PDs and ADs, this paper presents a model based on rational choice to account for variations in solidarity. According to the proposed analysis, levels of group solidarity depend on the balance in the group between compliant control, which increases cooperation, and oppositional control, which reduces it. That balance, in turn, depends on the allocation of power within the group
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DOI 10.2307/201872
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