Can Development Programs Shape Cooperation? Results from a Framed Field Experiment in Indonesia

Lucentezza Napitupulu, Jetske Bouma, Sonia Graham, Victoria Reyes-García*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Empirical studies among small-scale societies show that participation in national development programs impact traditional norms of community cooperation. We explore the extent to which varying levels of village and individual involvement in development policies relate to voluntary cooperation within community settings. We used a field experiment conducted in seven villages (208 participants) from an indigenous society in Indonesia known for their strong traditional cooperative norms, the Punan Tubu. We framed the experiment in terms of an ongoing government house-building program. The results indicate that there were synergistic and antagonistic interactions between existing cooperative norms and government development policies. Participants’ cooperation in the experimental setting was low, probably because the Punan Tubu are used to cooperating and sharing both under demand and in a context in which uncooperative behavior is largely unpunished. Variation in experimental behavior was related to both village- and individual-level variables, with participants living in resettlement villages and participants living in a house constructed under the government program displaying more cooperative behavior. The cooperation evident in resettled villages may indicate that people in these villages are more comfortable interacting in anonymous settings and less committed to the demand-sharing norms still prevalent in the upstream villages. The more cooperative behavior among villagers who have previously received a house might indicate that they recognize that they are now better off than others and feel more obliged to cooperate. Policies aiming to capitalize on existing cooperative behavior to stimulate community collective action should consider the specific conditions under which cooperation occurs in real settings since traditional norms that regulate cooperative behavior might not translate well to cooperation in government-led programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-195
Number of pages22
JournalHuman Nature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Community-based development
  • Decentralization
  • Economic integration
  • Framed field experiment
  • Indonesia
  • Social dilemma


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