Communication is a powerful tool for promoting cooperation in adults and is considered one of the most important solutions to social dilemmas. One feature that makes communication particularly useful in cooperative contexts is that it allows people to advertise their intentions to partners. Some work suggests that adults cooperate more after making nonbinding commitments to cooperate (i.e., commitments they do not need to uphold) than when they are not allowed to communicate their intentions to their partners. However, we know little about whether nonbinding commitments play a similar role in children. We addressed this gap by testing 6- to 9-year-old children in a simultaneous version of the iterated prisoner’s dilemma game. In the communication condition, children could communicate their intended decision prior to their actual choice, whereas in the silent condition, they could not communicate. Overall, children in the communication condition were no more likely to cooperate than children in the silent condition. However, in the communication condition, but not in the silent condition, children’s behavior was contingent on their previous decision; they were more likely to cooperate or defect when they had previously cooperated or defected, respectively. In addition, they rarely reversed their intended decisions in the game. Our findings suggest that, although nonbinding commitment does not promote children’s cooperation in general, it may encourage children to stick to their chosen strategy, perhaps for the sake of appearing consistent. More broadly, these results contribute to our emerging understanding of the ways in which children solve social dilemmas.
Prétôt, L., & McAuliffe, K. (2020). Does nonbinding commitment promote children’s cooperation in a social dilemma?. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 200, 104947.