The central questions of our research group revolve around voluntary cooperation and moral behavior. We are interested in uncovering traits of human behavior and identifying institutional arrangements that either facilitate or impede the achievement of socially beneficial outcomes. We also consider cognitive biases, such as self-serving and sunk-cost biases, and how they affect human decision making in different contexts. Our goal is to better understand human behavior in different contexts and institutional settings, and to share these insights with other researchers, students, policy, and society at large.

Our findings can be applied to a number of contexts; the focus, however, is on situations in which voluntary agreements cannot be enforced by a third party. Global problems like climate change rely on voluntary cooperation because there is no world authority that can enforce the protection of the global commons. It is the task of sovereign countries to negotiate and agree on mitigation actions and, subsequently, to implement them. Other examples include the extraction of common pool resources such as fisheries and forests, or the protection of water resources and biodiversity. In all of these cases, protection of the resource is costly for the party that undertakes it, but beneficial to the entire group of users. This creates an incentive to free ride which is the basis of the cooperation problem.

We rely on a variety of research methods. For instance, we conduct lab experiments to understand the conditions under which individuals and groups are ready or reluctant to cooperate towards achieving socially beneficial goals. We also use field experiments, surveys, and field data to examine decisions and beliefs outside of the lab. Game theoretical models and insights from social psychology often serve as the basis for our behavioral hypotheses and the design of our experiments and surveys.

A significant amount of our research is funded by the ERC Starting Grant “Human Cooperation to Protect the Global Commons” (HUCO).

Research projects