Not just like starting over - Leadership and revivification of cooperation in groups

J. Brandts, C.R. Rott*, C. Sola

*Corresponding author for this work

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We conduct a laboratory experiment to study how, after a history of decay, cooperation in a repeated voluntary contribution game can be revived in an enduring way. Simply starting the repeated game over-a simple fresh start-leads to an initial increase of cooperation, but to a subsequent new decay. Motivated by cooperation decay in organizations we study the potential of three interventions of triggering higher and sustained cooperation, which take place at the same time as a restart. Surprisingly, we find that the detailed explanation of the causes of the decay in cooperation of Fischbacher and Gachter (Am Econ Rev 100:541-556, 2010) combined with an advice on how to prevent decay do not have an effect beyond that of just starting over. In contrast, a one-way free form communication message sent by the leader to the followers strongly revives cooperation. We find evidence that repeated free form communication by the leader further strengthens the reviving effect on cooperation. Combining the two previous interventions does not outperform the pure effect of communication. Our content analysis reveals that leader communication is more people oriented than the expert advice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)792-818
Number of pages27
JournalExperimental Economics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Leadership
  • Cooperation
  • Communication
  • Experiments

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