Date on Senior Honors Thesis


Document Type

Senior Honors Thesis

Degree Name



Psychological and Brain Sciences

Author's Keywords

cooperation; resource dilemma; social dilemma.


People make decisions every day that have significant impact on others. The current experiment investigates the learning and decision-making processes involved when small groups confront a complex social dilemma under different learning conditions designed to imitate common educational interventions used in classrooms and non-laboratory settings. Participants (N=96) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions. In the Explore-First condition (n=32), participants played one round of a simulated social dilemma board game before receiving a lesson on social dilemmas, then played a second round. In the Lesson-First condition (n=32), participants received the lesson before playing the game. In the Contrast condition (n=32), participants received the lesson without playing the board game. Participants in the Explore-First condition performed significantly better on a quiz assessing their conceptual understanding of social dilemmas and transfer to new dilemmas. Individuals in the Explore-First condition also found the lesson more interesting, and generally showed greater acceptance of public policies intended to improve ecological sustainability. Educational interventions to improve cooperation in social dilemmas may benefit from an initial exploratory phase, where individuals experience critical features of the problem before being taught about them.

Lay Summary

The current study examined the role of exploratory learning, motivation, and social learning and perception in the development of conceptual knowledge, and promotion of cooperation, in a simulated resource dilemma. Participants learned about a real-world resource dilemma in the context of a board game and three different learning conditions: a Contrast condition, in which participants heard a lecture on the topic and board game, then read a detailed article about the real-world dilemma; a Lesson-First condition, in which participants were taught key concepts before playing the game; and an Explore-First condition, in which participants played the game before receiving the lesson.