Cognitive abilities and the resilience of common pool resource systems to ecological change

Document Type


Journal/Book Title

2017 Resilience Conference


Resilience Alliance


Stockholm, Sweden

Publication Date



Most policy challenges–from persistent inequality to pollution control–revolve around social dilemmas. In this paper we test the effects of individual cognitive abilities on the capability of a group to solve a social dilemma in a social-ecological system (SES). Two cognitive capacities are considered critical for groups to solve complex problems associated with social dilemmas: general intelligence (g) and social intelligence (SI). G is critical to understand how a SES works and find the best strategy to manage resources under conditions of ecological change. SI is critical to maintain social cohesion in spite of social change. Thus, a functional diversity of intelligence capacities results in more resilient solutions to social dilemmas in dynamic SES than either an abundance of individuals with high g or SI alone. To evaluate these premises we conducted behavioral experiments where participants learned to harvest resources as a group for three rounds and were then faced with an unexpected ecological change (perturbation) The perturbation reduced the availability of resources, stressing established rules and strategies for harvesting resources. All else being equal, the likelihood of resource collapse increased and gross resource harvest declined after the perturbation. Groups with high average g scores had a lower rate of resource collapse. Groups with higher average SI were better at cooperating in devising strategies to harvest resources prior to and after the ecological perturbation. More optimal harvest results and the minimization of resource collapse were more likely in groups with a mix of individuals with high g and high SI scores. Our results help us understand the effects of diverse individual cognitive abilities on the resilience of a social-ecological system under conditions of ecological change.

This document is currently not available here.