Social Decision Making and Sustainability Lab

We conduct lab experiments and field research to study the social cognitive and institutional foundations of societal cooperation, governance, and decision making.

Most societal problems are social dilemmas! 

Social Dilemmas are contested situations where people with different goals, interests, beliefs, and positions in society find themselves competing for resources, influence, or important societal goods and services. In these situations, people need to learn to cooperate despite their differences, in order to solve difficult societal problems for mutual (rather than individual) benefit. Human civilization requires management of numerous interlocking (i.e., related and connected) social dilemmas pertaining to resource use, government, public health, and so forth.

A familiar type of dilemma is the resource dilemma, in which different stakeholders need to cooperatively manage a shared, but limited resource like a forest, oil reserve, or water system (e.g., river, lake). Another familiar example of a resource dilemma is competition for scarce groceries, medicines, protective equipment, facilities, and toilet paper (household supplies) triggered by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Governments and individuals throughout society need to learn to coordinate their actions, cooperate, and share these resources for individual and mutual benefit. Another familiar dilemma is the public good dilemma, as situation where individuals need to contribute valuable but limited time, effort, skills, and other resources to generate something beneficial for others, such as blood charity drives, taxes to fund public infrastructure (e.g., roads) and national security, and cooperation to develop government systems (e.g., rules, enforcement, decision procedures) with which to resolve other dilemmas (e.g., governance systems to resolve resource dilemmas). These and other kinds of societal problems can be morally or politically contested (i.e. moral dilemmas, political dilemmas). 

Research Facilities

To study human behavior, we often create social dilemmas in the lab or study real-world dilemmas. Our physical research lab is located at the Department of Urban & Public Affairs. Dr. DeCaro directs a computer lab with 12 computer stations designed for group decision making experiments (Room 206), and a research assistant office (Room 207). We also conduct experiments in a number of formats online.

Experimenter Station Participant Computers
Experimenter Station Participant Computers

Current PhD Students

Experimental Psychology

  Rachel Appel

Jason Bush Jason Bush (Research Gate Profile)

  Alanea Graci

Sarah French (not pictured)

Urban and Public Affairs

  Amma Adusei

Mehrsa Ahmadpour (not pictured)

Abby Rudolph (not pictured)