A Study in Child Cooperation: Sweden vs. Colombia


The behavior of children continues to be of interest for both economists and Freakonomics. Back in May, we looked at research by the German economist Martin Kocher showing that young children are generally less risk-averse than adults. Now, a working paper by Juan-Camilo Cardenas, Anna Dreber, Emma von Essen and Eva Ranehill at the Stockholm School of Economics compares the cooperative behavior of Swedish children and Colombian children using the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, which explores how two parties cooperate in the absence of communication. Here’s the abstract:

We compare how children aged 9-12 in Colombia and Sweden cooperate in a Prisoner’s Dilemma. We introduce a new measurement device for cooperation that can be easily understood by children. There is some evidence of more cooperation in Sweden than in Colombia. Girls in Colombia are less cooperative than boys, whereas our results indicate the opposite in Sweden. Girls are in general more cooperative with boys than with girls. Relating cooperation to competitiveness, this appears to be task and country dependent.

The authors aim to explore how preferences regarding cooperative behavior are formed, given its important role in maintaining a functional society, and the interplay between culture and gender. From the paper:

We find evidence of children in Colombia being less cooperative than children in Sweden. This is mainly due to a significant difference in cooperation between girls from the two countries. Girls in Colombia are less cooperative than boys, whereas our results suggest the opposite in Sweden. We find some impact of the gender of the opponent, with girls being more cooperative with boys than with girls. Correlating behavior in the cooperative task and the competitive tasks, we find different results comparing girls from the two countries, but these correlations are not present in all tasks. There is no evidence of a correlation among boys.

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  1. Dexter says:

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  2. Roger S says:

    My takeaway from this is that women take their cues from society moreso than men, the canaries in the coal mine.

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  3. Mike B says:

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  4. Rafael says:

    I’m not surprised, sadly. I’m a Mexican living in Canada and I see fundamental differences in the social attitude, maybe similar to comparing Colombia with Sweden.

    In Latin America you have to look after yourself and protect your own (and your family’s) interests at all expense, or else you risk being screwed by someone. This applies to everything from personal property, business, government, etc.

    In Canada there’s an underlying feeling of respect and care for one another, of protecting the “common wealth”.

    Of course this is a generalization and oversimplification of very complex realities, but this somehow gets ingrained into our children’s behavior.

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    • crquack says:

      The epitomy of Canadian cooperation is the Capillano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, BC: Every day after 3 PM or so, the bridge switches to single lane heading into town. This means that there are 4 lanes of busy traffic merging into one. Every time I take part in that event I am amazed at the smoothness with which this occurs and the courtesy displayed by (otherwise fairly aggressive) drivers. In most other countries I have visited or lived in there would be at least some incidents and possibly warfare. Not in Vancouver

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      • Time out- no more curt sees for me. says:

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      • No more curt sees for me says:

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      • Baffled says:


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      • crquack says:

        Of course I meant *Lion’s Gate Bridge*, not Capillano Suspension. You would not get a Smart car on Capillano, let alone 4 lanes of traffic.

        One should not post on empty stomach.

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      • thin skinned, says:

        I meant what I said (re apology) on or off an empty stomach. Never heard of the Capillano Suspension and as for the Lion’s Gate- Reminds me of why people own dogs- They say boo- or ruff, ruff- and the criminals run away- like scarety cats. Boys will remain boys. Only a few grow up. I happen to be married to one who grew up here in America the hard way–without mother or father to protect him. He learned to fight for himself and I learned from him. So whether with or without food- better look before you leap off a bridge.

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    • lawyer says:

      Knew this anestesiologist doctor and lawyer couple here in America who bought a place in Canada. Now I understand why. Thanks.

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  5. The Monroe Doctrine says:

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  6. http://blogs.unpad.ac.id says:

    Girls are less cooperative than boys. I agree.

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  7. PreemptivePlacebo says:

    Sweden is a relatively homogenous society while Colombia is not. People who are alike tend to work together better than those who are different. Think Japan or China.

    India is the perfect example. Not only do they have 650 ethnic tribes but within those tribes many have divided themselves further by castes. Consequently, there is very little cooperation relative to other countries.

    It would be interesting to compare the United States with Sweden.

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  8. Angela says:

    Good morning. I would like to translate this publication , Could I?

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    • historian says:

      Dear AngelA;

      Sorry, but the translation already exists on several fronts. I guess Romny ought to read Goldstein’s dissertation (1991, Max Weber’s Contribution to `knowledge’ of the origins of chinese thought). The bottom line is- there needs to be a real bottom line of treating one another with respect beyond which we do not go. The thought of pre-history repeating itself is too much for one individual to bear. . and the need for environmental, health, … protection against the destructive threat that we humans seem to pose to our environment and to each other should be a real bi-partisan committment – that teaches the chinese a thing or two about America and the real need for a mutual orientation of our activities in the struggle for advantages and for human survival on our planet.

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  9. AaronS says:

    I have a theory. It’s likely to get me killed. But here goes….

    Women are just as smart as men. Women live longer. They are just as well-educated. Etc. Yet women do not “rule the world.” Why?

    I have long believed that it is because women do not cooperate with each other as well as men cooperate with each other. While men form networks with each other in the workplace, many women in the workplace take a more competitive/adversarial approach to each other…even if polished over with smiles and diplomacy. Yet these same women might get along quite well with the men!

    I don’t know if this is some evolutionary drive playing out or what, but I’ve broached this to professional women and they acknowledge this extra layer of competitiveness between women.

    For whatever reason, I don’t think that women get along with other women as well as men get along with other men. I can walk up to complete strangers and say to the man, “I’m glad that baby got it’s mother’s looks and not yours,” and he’ll smile–AND AGREE! Imagine what would happen if a woman said the opposite to a woman!!!!!



    The Apocalypse

    The Rapture

    The End of Life As We Know It.

    Now, I admit that I’m very likely painting with too broad of a brush. But I have noticed this over and over–women work better with men than they do with each other. And men work better with men than they do with women.

    I’m not writing this to stir things up. It is just something I’ve noticed in my years in the Fortune 25 world. I am specifically addressing big business situations, but perhaps it even carries over to the more parochial level.

    Anyone notice the same thing…or do I stand in need of correction?

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    • Steve says:

      I agree. Its about the ability to compartmentalize. Men are better at thinking “I don’t personally like this person but we can work together towards a common goal in the short term”. Women are more likely to think “I don’t like this person, I’m not going to work with him/her, although I’m socially obligated to act nice so I don’t want to get marginalized”. An evolutionary biologist (which I’m not) might point out that women have a higher commitment in regards to reproduction and a shorter time line to reproduce so their choices have to be absolute whereas men can make more mistakes and have enough time to make up for them.

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      • social theorist says:

        No, no steve. Men are not better at thinking. Women have learned to keep their real thoughts to themselves for fear of retaliation. It is men who generally act out of self interest and women who commit to long-term goals and have the strength to carry them out. We (unlike you) generally have learned about death when we give birth- as there is that potential built right into our very biological system. And yes, I guess you knew this was the score before you asked for a real account. So I guess, men have the potential for becoming equally capable of the work of women. Great job!

        See Robyn Ann Goldstein, Recalling Sociology, Rethinking Social science. 2003 or in print. And forthcoming. No two words of this text may be used without the authors permission.

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    • real social theorist says:

      Dear Aaron; I wish it were not true to the extent that it seems to be. But then again I have been fortunate in my life time to have a daughter with whom I have cultivated a genuine relationship based on trust and as much respect that I can offer as one of her two luving parents and as a mom. It was a hard sell, but wow- so well worth it. My daughter is just a gem of a wonderful kid. So I do think that it is possible for women to become friends. I have been working on it with a few others- but it is hard when there’s so much competitiveness between women. I think when women come around to respecting and liking themselves more and to being respected as individuals , things will change. But we are not there yet.

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