The research team shows that the threat of shame and promise of honour each increased cooperation by as much as 50 per cent, providing insights into potential future strategies for tackling global issues such as overfishing and climate change. “Shame and honour might evoke images of The Scarlet Letter or The Three Musketeers, but as tactics to drive social cooperation, they are increasingly important in the digital age of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, where acts of shame and honour are being shared and propagated with unprecedented speed,” says lead author Jennifer Jacquet, a postdoctoral fellow in UBC's Fisheries Centre and the Dept. of Mathematics.
Jacquet says shame and honour are increasingly used to affect policy and cultural change. For example, to deter tax evasion, many U.S. states recently implementing policies to post names of tax delinquents online. Large-scale conservation programs use honour to encourage corporate and public involvement, such as labels that signal to consumers that products are sustainable, including Vancouver's Ocean Wise seafood program. The new study is part of a series to establish a scientific foundation that informs future strategies to encourage cooperation on global issues. “The study confirms that a shame tactic can be effective, but rather surprisingly, we've also found that apparently honour has an equally strong effect on encouraging people to cooperate for the common good,” says co-author Christoph Hauert, an assistant professor in UBC's Dept. of Mathematics and an expert on game theory.