Asymmetry and Incomplete Information in an Experimental Volunteer’s Dilemma

Publication Date:
Jan 2009
Project Programs:
Behavioral Economics

Our study tests a variation of the volunteer’s dilemma where the cost to volunteer is not symmetric across members of a group. Diekmann (1993) gives an example of three bystanders observing a victim in danger of drowning. If only one of the bystanders is able to swim, such that Ck is less than Ci, it seems apparent that the bystander who can swim should save the victim. However the Nash solution implies that the non-swimmers are expected to save the victim. We find that increasing the cost to volunteer significantly decreases the rate of volunteering. We are also able to show that the rate of volunteering is positively correlated with other group members’ costs, which suggests that people tend to take their turn volunteering when their cost to volunteer is relatively low.


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