A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Public Good and Resource Good Settings Academic Article uri icon


  • Social dilemmas are situations in which individual incentives and group incentives conflict. Public goods sustained by contributions of time and money, such as public television, and resource goods sustained by restraint from taking, such as rainforests, represent two types of social dilemmas. In this study, we examine whether the two types of social dilemmas generate the same amount of cooperation when the costs and benefits are exactly the same. Rational choice perspectives suggest equivalent levels of cooperation, whereas alternative perspectives such as prospect theory suggest that resource goods might generate greater cooperation. Combining prospect theory and strategic game theory, we predict that resource good settings will have higher levels of cooperation. We test the predictions in two different cultures: The United States and the People's Republic of China. We find consistent patterns: In both countries, group members were more cooperative when faced with resource goods dilemmas than when faced with public goods dilemmas.

published proceedings

  • Social Psychology Quarterly

author list (cited authors)

  • Sell, J., Chen, Z., Hunter-Holmes, P., & Johansson, A. C.

citation count

  • 22

complete list of authors

  • Sell, Jane||Chen, Zeng-Yin||Hunter-Holmes, Pam||Johansson, Anna C

publication date

  • September 2002