Bicchieri. Cristina, and Lev-On, Azi. 2007. Computer-mediated communication and cooperation in social dilemmas: An experimental analysis. Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 6, 139-168.
One of the most consistent findings in experimental studies of social dilemmas is the positive influence of face-to-face communication on cooperation. The face-to-face ‘communication effect’ has been recently explained in terms of a ‘focus theory of norms’: successful communication focuses agents on pro-social norms, and induces preferences and expectations conducive to cooperation. Many of the studies that point to a communication effect, however, do not further explore whether and to what extent the communication medium affects cooperative behavior. In this article, we ask if pro-social behavior can emerge and survive in computer-mediated environments. We show that, like face-to-face communication, computer mediated communication also positively affects cooperation in social dilemmas, but cooperation is more difficult to establish and maintain. We argue that the discrepancy between the computer-mediated and the face-to-face communication effects is a consequence of the distinct capabilities of different media to focus agents on pro-social norms and to allow them to develop mutual expectations about future behavior.