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Slow and deliberate cooperation in the commons


We test how fast and slow thought processes affect cooperation for sustainability by manipulating time pressure in a dynamic common-pool resource experiment. Sustainable management of shared resources critically depends on decisions in the current period to leave enough stock so that future generations are able to draw on the remaining limited natural resources. An intertemporal common-pool resource game represents a typical dynamic for social dilemmas involving natural resources. Using one such game, we analyse decisions throughout time. We find that people in this context deplete the common resource to a greater extent under time pressure, which leads to greater likelihood of stock collapse. Preventing resource collapse while managing natural resources requires actively creating decision environments that facilitate the cognitive capacity needed to support sustainable cooperation.

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Fig. 1: Average size of the group account (n = 168 for no time pressure treatment and n = 116 for the time pressure treatment) at the beginning of each period (the stock size left after the previous period with the addition of regrown stock).

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We thank D. Rand, L. Putterman, A. Alonso, A. Gold, S. Ventz and T. Sproul for helpful comments on this work and C.A. Gill for research assistance. This work was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Hatch project 1005053 and the RI Water Resources Center.

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All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript. T.G. and C.B. designed the experiment and analysed the data.

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Correspondence to Todd Guilfoos.

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Supplementary Methods, Discussion, Tables 1–4, Figs. 1–4

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Brozyna, C., Guilfoos, T. & Atlas, S. Slow and deliberate cooperation in the commons. Nat Sustain 1, 184–189 (2018).

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