A conceptual review of decision making in social dilemmas: applying a logic of appropriateness

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2004;8(3):281-307. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr0803_4.


Despite decades of experimental social dilemma research, "theoretical integration has proven elusive" (Smithson & Foddy, 1999, p. 14). To advance a theory of decision making in social dilemmas, this article provides a conceptual review of the literature that applies a "logic of appropriateness" (March, 1994) framework. The appropriateness framework suggests that people making decisions ask themselves (explicitly or implicitly), "What does a person like me do in a situation like this? " This question identifies 3 significant factors: recognition and classification of the kind of situation encountered, the identity of the individual making the decision, and the application of rules or heuristics in guiding behavioral choice. In contrast with dominant rational choice models, the appropriateness framework proposed accommodates the inherently social nature of social dilemmas, and the role of rule and heuristic based processing. Implications for the interpretation of past findings and the direction of future research are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Logic*
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Identification