Do you learn cooperation from your parents?

Some people say no:

This paper studies whether prosocial values are transmitted from parents to their children.  We do so through an economic experiment, in which a group of families play a standard public goods game.  The experimental data presents us with a surprising result. We find no significant correlation between the degree of cooperation of a child and that of his or her parents.  Such lack of cooperation is robust across age groups, sex, family size and different estimation strategies.  This contrasts with the typical assumption made by the theoretical economic literature on the inter-generational transmission of values.  The absence of correlation between parents’ and children’s behavior, however, is consistent with part of the psychological literature, which emphasizes the importance of peer effects in the socialization process.

Here is the paper.  The alternative interpretation, of course, is that social cues learned from parents are specific to particular contexts.  Put people in some new and hitherto unexpected context — the lab games — and you can’t make much out of what goes on.  But if you’re predicting whether a Bedouin will bring water to someone lost in the desert, or whether a Swede will engage in recycling, I expect parental behavior has more predictive power.


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