Localized prosocial preferences, public goods, and common-pool resources

Andrew R. Tilman, Avinash K. Dixit, Simon Asher Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The presence of prosocial preferences is thought to reduce significantly the difficulty of solving societal collective action problems such as providing public goods (or reducing public bads). However, prosociality is often limited to members of an in-group. We present a general theoretical model where society is split into subgroups and people care more about the welfare of others in their own subgroup than they do about those in out-groups. Individual contributions to the public good spill over and benefit members in each group to different degrees. We then consider special cases of our general model under which we can examine the consequences of localized prosociality for the economic outcomes of society as a whole. We ask to what extent prosociality closes the welfare gap between the Nash equilibrium without prosociality and the social optimum. The answer depends on whether private and public inputs are good or poor substitutes in producing final output. Critically, the degree to which this welfare gap closes is a concave function of the level of prosociality in the case of poor substitutes, so even low levels of prosociality can lead to social welfare near the social optimum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5305-5310
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Collective action
  • Common-pool resources
  • Game theory
  • Local prosociality
  • Public goods


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