Environment and Development Economics

Research Article

Problems of the commons: group behavior, cooperation and sanctioning in a two-harbor experiment

Dmytro Zhosana1 and Roy Gardnera2

a1 Department of Economics, Ripon College, P.O. Box 248, Ripon, WI 54971, USA. Email: [email protected]

a2 Department of Economics, Indiana University, USA


This paper analyzes individual and group behavior in an experimental commons. Different factors that can help avoid the tragedy of the commons are studied in four experimental settings: separation of a larger commons into smaller commons (two harbors), knowledge/experience available to appropriators, communication within appropriator groups and the possibility of formal and informal sanctioning of group members. Subject populations include undergraduate students as well as professionals working in the Maine lobster and groundfish industries. This design enables a behavioral comparison between students and professionals, as well as a comparison between professionals in these two mutually exclusive fisheries. Results show that group size, communication, geographic separation and subjects' ability to solve the coordination game caused by this separation all contribute to appropriation efficiency on the commons.

(Received November 30 2011)

(Revised July 15 2012)

(Accepted July 20 2012)

(Online publication October 03 2012)


  Very sadly, Professor Gardner passed away before the publication of this paper.

  The authors wish to thank Ann Acheson, Jim Acheson, Bill Ethier, Rick Harbaugh, Eric Livny, John Maxwell, Mike McGinnis, Elinor Ostrom, James Walker and Arlington Williams, participants in various conferences and seminars, and anonymous referees for helpful comments. Research support from Ripon College, Bates College, Indiana University and the National Science Foundation is gratefully acknowledged.