A sociological analysis of generalized information exchange
This dissertation examines how generalized exchange systems emerge when information, as the object of exchange, produces a collective good. In these generalized information exchange systems, individuals contribute to a collective good (pool of information), and the rewards that an actor receives come from this collective good. Thus, these exchange systems are also analogous to many public goods or collective action problems. Because it is rational to free ride by receiving information (or information goods) from the public pool of information while not contributing to it, generalized information exchange systems require individuals to overcome a social dilemma. I develop a theoretical argument that specifies how social psychological processes act as selective incentives that increase individual contributions to a public pool of information. When the costs associated with contributing information are small, social psychological factors such as the popularity of one's own information and the normative obligation associated with observing cooperative behavior can have a relatively profound effect on cooperation. I conducted several experiments requiring subjects to participate in a computer-based exchange system that manipulated either the popularity of a subject's contributions or the observed cooperation in the system. The results of these experiments demonstrate that social psychological selective incentives significantly encourage cooperation in generalized information exchange systems. That is, individuals are more likely to cooperate (i.e., share information) in the presence of these selective incentives. Increased cooperation occurs even though these incentives offer no direct economic benefit to the participants.
0723: Information systems