Article review – Results & conclusion

Generally, the study results offered support for the three hypotheses. Both rewards and punishment were observed to have statistically equivalent effect of promoting cooperation in social dilemmas. Secondly, such effect was stronger for the incentives that were associated with a higher cost. Although the third hypothesis was supported by the meta-analysis, when the authors controlled for cost effects, the difference in effect between centralized and decentralized systems of incentive were not statistically significant. This indicates that cost, rather than source of incentive, is a more potent determinant of the effect of incentive on cooperation. Other findings were that the effect of the incentive was stronger when participants interacted in the same group where the dilemma is repeated severally as compared to when participants changed groups or when one-shot dilemmas were offered. Further differences were observed among studies conducted in different countries though such were not related to other study characteristics such as group size.

Overall, the study by Balliet, Mulder and Van Lange (2011) provides succinct evidence of the effect of the rewards and punishment in promoting cooperation in social dilemmas. It offers insight into factors that influence the effect of incentives in such settings. Among its strengths is the comprehensive review of relevant and up-to-date literature to base its hypotheses and support its arguments. Additionally, the study identifies measurable variables that it subsequently uses to assess these hypotheses. Further the authors offer a succinct discussion of the results, comparing them with previous findings, and in the process, identify areas for further research. The study’s weaknesses arise from the limitations imposed by the methodology. For instance use of studies from various disciplines, especially psychology and economics where approaches may differ, the source of differences in the effect reported in the current study may arise from such differences in approaches. Additionally, most of the studies analyzed were based on punishment-incentives thus may have affected the comparison of effects of punishment and rewards in fostering cooperation. Despite these limitations, the study provides critical information on how effective punishments and rewards might be in influencing an individual’s behavior in a social-dilemma situation. As such, it provides information for use in such areas as public policy, governance and setting organizational structures.


Balliet, D., Mulder, L. B. & Van Lange, P. A. M. (2011). Reward, punishment and cooperation: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 137(4), 594-615, doi: 10.1037/a0023489

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