Original article:

Harnessing the power of reputation: Strengths and limits for promoting cooperative behaviors

Evolutionary Psychology 10(5): 868-883 Pat Barclay, Department of Psychology, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada, barclayp@uoguelph.ca


Evolutionary approaches have done much to identify the pressures that select for cooperative sentiment. This helps us understand when and why cooperation will arise, and applied research shows how these pressures can be harnessed to promote various types of cooperation. In particular, recent evidence shows how opportunities to acquire a good reputation can promote cooperation in laboratory and applied settings. Cooperation can be promoted by tapping into forces like indirect reciprocity, costly signaling, and competitive altruism. When individuals help others, they receive reputational benefits (or avoid reputational costs), and this gives people an incentive to help. Such findings can be applied to promote many kinds of helping and cooperation, including charitable donations, tax compliance, sustainable and pro-environmental behaviors, risky heroism, and more. Despite the potential advantages of using reputation to promote positive behaviors, there are several risks and limits. Under some circumstances, opportunities for reputation will be ineffective or promote harmful behaviors. By better understanding the dynamics of reputation and the circumstances under which cooperation can evolve, we can better design social systems to increase the rate of cooperation and reduce conflict.


cooperation, altruism, helping, applied game theory, costly signaling, reciprocity

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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