Cooperation and Culture: Students from China and the United States in a Prisoner's Dilemma

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Economics | Social and Behavioral Sciences


An important question facing those interested in comparative economic systems is how well the assumptions underlying market economic models fit in nonmarket contexts. Does individual economic behavior vary across cultures? The authors brought together Chinese undergraduates and students from an American college to play the classic prisoner's dilemma game. Facing monetary payoffs, each student played the game several times with different partners. A probit analysis is used to examine what influenced the students' decisions to cooperate or defect in each game. The authors found that American students behaved in a more self-interested, less cooperative manner than the Chinese students did in the prisoner's dilemma experiment. They also found that when foreign students studying in the United States are included with the American students to create a sample of students who grew up in a variety of different market economies, these students also behaved in a less cooperative manner than their Chinese counterparts.