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Date of Award

Spring 2012

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science



First Advisor

Prof. Arthur Schneider


The goal of this research is to examine how various grouping designs affect the level of cooperation in a voluntary contributions public goods experiment. In public goods games, subjects choose between different levels of cooperation (investing in a common fund) and free-riding (investing in a private fund). While cooperation increases the total earnings of the group, the individual payoff-maximizing strategy is full free-riding. Thus, individual and collective interests are at odds.

This study examines how two of the Big Five personality domains, Agreeableness (A) and Conscientiousness (C), affect individuals’ decisions to cooperate or free-ride. The level of the subjects’ predispositions to be agreeable and conscientious is assessed with the NEO-PI-3. Based on their scores on the two personality domains, subjects are assigned to groups and each treatment condition utilizes a different grouping design. In the Similar (A) and Similar (C) treatments, individuals with similar levels of (A) and (C) are grouped together respectively, while in the Different (A) and Different (C) treatments each group consists of individuals with dissimilar scores on the respective domain. Finally, a Random treatment is used as a control condition in which subjects are randomly assigned to groups.

Data from the treatments suggests that people with similar levels of conscientiousness contribute the highest amounts and achieve a low level of punishment as well as the highest group earnings. These results may indeed indicate a higher level of cooperation, but the limitations of our research require future studies to further investigate the relationships between the Big Five personality domains and cooperation.


Senior thesis completed at Trinity College for the degree of Bachelor of Science in Economics. Accessible to members of the Trinity community only.