Cooperation in a Repeated Prisoners’ Dilemma with Ostracism

David Hirshleifer and Eric B. Rasmusen

Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, August 1989


The unique Nash equilibrium of the finitely repeated n-person Prisoners’ Dilemma calls for defection in all rounds. One way to enforce cooperation in groups is ostracism: players who defect are expelled. If the group’s members prefer not to diminish its size, ostracism hurts the legitimate members of the group as well as the outcast, putting the credibility of the threat in doubt. Nonetheless, we show that ostracism can be effective in promoting cooperation with either finite or infinite rounds of play. The model can be applied to games other than the Prisoners’ Dilemma, and ostracism can enforce inefficient as well as efficient outcomes.

Download PDF
RePEc version
SSRN version