Social dilemmas characterize decision environments in which individuals’ exclusive pursuit of their own material self-interest can produce inefficient allocations. Social dilemmas are most commonly studied in provision games, such as public goods games and trust games, in which the social dilemma can be manifested in foregone opportunities to create surplus. Appropriation games are sometimes used to study social dilemmas which can be manifested in destruction of surplus, as is typical in common-pool resource extraction games. A central question is whether social dilemmas are more serious for inhibiting creation of surplus or in promoting its destruction. This question is addressed in this study with an experiment involving three pairs of payoff-equivalent provision and appropriation games. Some game pairs are symmetric while others involve asymmetric power relationships. We find that play of symmetric provision and appropriation games produces comparable efficiency. In contrast, power asymmetry leads to significantly lower efficiency in an appropriation game than in a theoretically equivalent provision game. This outcome can be rationalized by reciprocal preference theory but not by models of unconditional social preferences.
Cox, James; Ostrom, Elinor; Sadiraj, Vjollca; and Walker, James, "Provision versus Appropriation in Symmetric and Asymmetric Social Dilemmas" (2012). ExCEN Working Papers. 61.