An investigation of children’s strategies for overcoming the tragedy of the commons

Rebecca Koomen, Esther Herrmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Common-pool resource (CPR) dilemmas are pervasive challenges to overcome. We presented six-year-old children with an experimental CPR paradigm involving a renewable water resource, which children could collect to win individual rewards. To maximize water collection, children had to wait for water to accumulate, without collapsing the resource. We explore the social strategies children used to overcome the dilemma together. Like adults, six-year-old children were challenged by the dilemma: resource sustaining was more successful in a parallel condition in which children worked independently compared with the collective CPR condition. However, children were capable of collectively preventing resource collapse by spontaneously generating inclusive rules, equally distributing the rewards and distracting one another from the delay-of-gratification task. Children also learned to sustain the resource longer in repeated interactions with the same partner. Already by the age of six, children are capable of CPR social strategies resembling those of adults.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-355
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number5
Early online date16 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


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