Behaviour in commons dilemmas: Homo economicus and Homo psychologicus in an ecological-economic model

W. Jager, M. A. Janssen, H. J.M. De Vries, J. De Greef, C. A.J. Vlek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

194 Scopus citations


In mainstream economy, behaviour is often formalised following the rational actor-approach. However, in real life the behaviour of people is typified by multidimensional optimisation. To realise this, people engage in cognitive processes such as social comparison, imitation and repetitive behaviour (habits) so as to efficiently use their limited cognitive resources. A multi-agent simulation program is being developed to study how such micro-level processes affect macro-level outcomes. Sixteen agents are placed in a micro-world, consisting of a lake and a gold mine. Each agent's task is to satisfy its personal needs by fishing and/or mining, whereby they find themselves in a commons dilemma facing the risk of resource depletion. Homo economicus and Homo psychologicus are formalised to study the effects of different cognitive processes on the agents' behaviour. Results show that for the H. psychologicus the transition from a fishing to a mining society is more complete than for the H. economicus. Moreover, introducing diversity in agents' abilities causes the H. economicus on the average to decrease its time spent working, whereas for the H. psychologicus we observe an increase in the time spent working. These results confirm that macro-level indicators of sustainability, such as pollution and fish-harvest, are strongly and predictably affected by behavioural processes at the micro-level. It is concluded that the incorporation of a micro-level perspective on human behaviour within integrated models of the environment yields a better understanding and eventual management of the processes involved in environmental degradation. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-379
Number of pages23
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Commons dilemma
  • Consumat
  • Dynamics
  • Multi-agent
  • Psychol ogy
  • Resource
  • Simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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