In the Eye of the Beholder: Payoff Structures and Decision Frames in Social Dilemmas
Although original conceptualizations of social dilemmas did not assume that outcome matrixes — payoff structures detailing the costs and benefits of cooperation — were objective and fixed (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978), most empirical research on social dilemmas has implicitly made such an assumption. Drawing on the “logic of appropriateness” framework (March, 1995; Messick, 1999), which argues that to understand behavior we need to first understand the decision-maker’s construal of the situation, we explore the implications of a subjective and fluid outcome matrix, one that exists only within the eye of the beholder. We argue that, depending on the frame with which a decision-maker perceives the social dilemma, there can be a different effective outcome matrix for every decision-maker and a differential importance of any given outcome matrix in predicting behavior. With an interest toward more successfully managing social dilemmas, we identify the characteristics of frames that may lead to effective matrices that, unbeknownst to the decision-maker, encourage defection and reduce the probability of successful cooperation.