Investigating the Restart Effect in Social Dilemmas: Kindness, Confusion and Strategic Cooperation
Do economic games show evidence of altruistic or self-interested motivations? A huge body of empirical work has refuted the idea of Homo economics, a perfectly rational and self-interested agent.
However, previous data could rarely discern if it was the rationality assumption, or the self-interested assumption, that was false. Here we show that the famous ‘restart effect’, whereby failing cooperation in public goods games can be rescued by a surprise restart, is not evidence of a uniquely human prosociality, as often assumed.
Instead, it appears to be driven by a mixture of self-interest and irrational beliefs about the game’s payoffs. Our results suggest economic games have often been measuring self-interested but confused behaviours and reject the idea that conventional theories of evolution cannot explain the results of economic games.