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Dispositional free riders do not free ride on punishment


Till O. Weber

Ori Weisel

Professor, Psychology of Economic Decision Making


Strong reciprocity explains prosocial cooperation by the presence of individuals who incur costs to help those who helped them (‘strong positive reciprocity’) and to punish those who wronged them (‘strong negative reciprocity’). Theories of social preferences predict that in contrast to ‘strong reciprocators’, self-regarding people cooperate and punish only if there are sufficient future benefits. Here, we test this prediction in a two-stage design. First, participants are classified according to their disposition towards strong positive reciprocity as either dispositional conditional cooperators (DCC) or dispositional free riders (DFR). Participants then play a one-shot public goods game, either with or without punishment. As expected, DFR cooperate only when punishment is possible, whereas DCC cooperate without punishment. Surprisingly, dispositions towards strong positive reciprocity are unrelated to strong negative reciprocity: punishment by DCC and DFR is practically identical. The ‘burden of cooperation’ is thus carried by a larger set of individuals than previously assumed.


Weber, T. O., Weisel, O., & Gächter, S. (2018). Dispositional free riders do not free ride on punishment. Nature Communications, 9(1), Article 2390.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 21, 2018
Online Publication Date Jun 19, 2018
Publication Date Jun 19, 2018
Deposit Date Jul 30, 2018
Publicly Available Date Jul 30, 2018
Journal Nature Communications
Electronic ISSN 2041-1723
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Issue 1
Article Number 2390
Public URL
Publisher URL


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