A new study has suggested that honour and shame work equally well in encouraging social cooperation.
The study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, reported on the results of a series of experiments with 180 first-year UBC students.
The research team shows that the threat of shame and promise of honour each increased cooperation by as much as 50 percent, providing insights into potential future strategies for tackling global issues such as over fishing and climate change.
"Shame and honour might evoke images of The Scarlet Letter or The Three Musketeers, but as tactics to drive social cooperation, they are increasingly important in the digital age of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, where acts of shame and honour are being shared and propagated with unprecedented speed," lead author Jennifer Jacquet, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC's Fisheries Centre and the Dept. of Mathematics, said.
Jacquet said shame and honour are increasingly being used to affect policy and cultural change.
Large-scale conservation programs use honour to encourage corporate and public involvement, such as labels that signal to consumers that products are sustainable.
The new study is part of a series to establish a scientific foundation that informs future strategies to encourage cooperation on global issues.
"The study confirms that a shame tactic can be effective, but rather surprisingly, we've also found that apparently honour has an equally strong effect on encouraging people to cooperate for the common good," co-author Christoph Hauert, an assistant professor in UBC's Dept. of Mathematics and an expert on game theory, said.
Co-author Manfred Milinski, an evolutionary biologist from the Max Planck Institute, said the study builds on previous experiments showing that cooperation can also be achieved if participants can establish and maintain a good reputation.
"In contrast to previous studies, the real-life reputation of our participants was at stake. This could be a prerequisite for shame and honour to work in other contexts," co-author Arne Traulsen from the Max Planck Institute said.
The study has been published in Biology Letters.