Kim H, Toyokawa W & Kameda T. (2019). How do we decide when (not) to free-ride? Risk tolerance predicts adaptation of cooperation levels in new settings. Evolution and Human Behavior, 40: 55-64. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2018.08.001

In collaborations, group productivity typically increases with more cooperators, but is also often subject to diminishing returns. This pattern provides a different view about cooperation from traditional social dilemmas: defection is not necessarily the dominant strategy. Rather, a frequency-dependent “anti-conformist” strategy (cooperate if many others defect, and vice versa) is often individually rational. This study addresses human cooperation under such marginally diminishing group productivity, focusing on the plasticity of cooperative choices. We conducted a two-part “team foraging” experiment, in which the most- or least-cooperative members in the first part were re-grouped separately for the second part. We observed that cooperating and defecting “types” emerged within a group over time but did not completely persist across groups, with some of the most cooperative members switching to become the least cooperative (and vice versa). Risk attitude was a key factor in this switching behavior: greater risk-takers showed greater behavioral plasticity. These results imply that human cooperation may be more context-dependent and behaviorally plastic than previously thought.