Need-based transfer systems are more vulnerable to cheating when resources are hidden

Scott Claessens, Jessica D. Ayers, Lee Cronk, Athena Aktipis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Need-based transfer systems pool risk among interdependent individuals. Such arrangements are bound by two simple rules: Ask for help only when in need and, if you are able, give help to others who ask. But there may be a temptation for individuals to break these rules for short-term personal profit. Here, we study one factor that may enforce honesty in need-based transfer relationships: the visibility of resources. Across three experiments employing a novel experimental economic game, breaking of both need-based transfer rules increased when resources were hidden rather than visible (Experiment 1: n = 82, online convenience sample from the US; Experiment 2: n = 80, student sample from the US; Experiment 3: n = 42, online convenience sample from the US). Participants with hidden resources were (1) more likely to request help when not actually in need (greediness), and (2) more likely to not fulfill requests from others for help, even when they had sufficient resources available to help (stinginess). These findings highlight the visibility of resources as one potential limitation of cooperative risk pooling systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-112
Number of pages9
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Cheating
  • Cooperation
  • Free-riding
  • Need-based transfers
  • Risk pooling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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