This article examines how an individual’s decision to cooperate or not cooperate in a game setting can influence subsequent interactions between other players. Previous research has shown that cooperative behavior can evolve in a fixed population as a result of repeated interactions. However, little is known about whether cooperative or uncooperative behavior can have a cascading influence on the behavior of people who were not part of the original decision.
The authors conducted a controlled experiment in which individuals were assigned to a sequence of groups to play one-shot public goods games. One set of games was an ordinary public goods game while the other set was a public goods game with the possibility of punishment. The authors studied the results of the sequence of games to see if the decisions made by individuals in a set affected the behavior of players in subsequent games who did not play in the original set.
These findings suggest that cooperative behavior can cascade through social networks, meaning that a contribution made to the public good by an individual will be magnified by other individuals, even ones only indirectly influenced by the original contribution.