When Do We Learn to Cooperate? The Role of Social Learning in Social Dilemmas

James Best

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper


In this paper, I look at the interaction between social learning and cooperative
behavior. I model this using a social dilemma game with publicly observed
sequential actions and asymmetric information about payoffs. I find that some
informed agents in this model act, individually and without collusion, to conceal
the privately optimal action. Because the privately optimal action is socially
costly the behavior of informed agents can lead to a Pareto improvement in a social dilemma. In my model I show that it is possible to get cooperative behavior
if information is restricted to a small but non-zero proportion of the population.
Moreover, such cooperative behavior occurs in a finite setting where it is public
knowledge which agent will act last. The proportion of cooperative agents within
the population can be made arbitrarily close to 1 by increasing the finite number
of agents playing the game. Finally, I show that under a broad set of conditions
that it is a Pareto improvement on a corner value, in the ex-ante welfare sense,
for an interior proportion of the population to be informed.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherEdinburgh School of Economics Discussion Paper Series
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2011

Publication series

NameESE Discussion Papers


  • asymmetric information
  • cooperation
  • efficiency
  • social learning
  • social dilemmas
  • C72
  • D62
  • D82
  • D83


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