Biased perceptions explain collective action deadlocks and suggest new mechanisms to prompt cooperation

Fernando P. Santos, Simon A. Levin, Vítor V. Vasconcelos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


When individuals face collective action problems, their expectations about others' willingness to contribute affect their motivation to cooperate. Individuals, however, often misperceive the cooperation levels in a population. In the context of climate action, people underestimate the pro-climate positions of others. Designing incentives to enable cooperation and a sustainable future must thereby consider how social perception biases affect collective action. We propose a theoretical model and investigate the effect of social perception bias in non-linear public goods games. We show that different types of bias play a distinct role in cooperation dynamics. False uniqueness (underestimating own views) and false consensus (overestimating own views) both explain why communities get locked in suboptimal states. Such dynamics also impact the effectiveness of typical monetary incentives, such as fees. Our work contributes to understanding how targeting biases, e.g., by changing the information available to individuals, can comprise a fundamental mechanism to prompt collective action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102375
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 23 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Decision Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology


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