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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Crowding out from external sanctioning

Variable relationship:

Motivation crowding theory (Frey and Jegen 2001) suggests that externally imposed sanctions (External Sanctions) as solutions to environmental dilemmas that standard theory predict would improve social welfare do not (Cardenas et al. 2000; Vollan 2008). This occurs because individuals confronted with the regulation begin to exhibit less other-regarding behavior (Collective Action) and made choices that are more self-interested resulting in less rule compliance (Compliance), which jeopardizes the effects of rules on resource conservation (Commons Condition Trend).

This theory has been also referred as "Local environmental control and institutional crowding-out". 

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
External sanctionsUnderlying independent variableSanctions that are imposed by external actors may crowd-out intrinsic and pro-social motivations; causing individuals to respond more to short-term economic factors and therefore fail to cooperate to manage resources or comply with rules. Yes
Collective actionIntermediate outcomeExternal sanctioning that supersedes intrinsic motivation to cooperate translates into lower cooperation levels than would be expected.Low
ComplianceIntermediate outcomeExternal sanctioning that supersedes intrinsic motivation to cooperate translates into lower compliance levels than would be expected. No
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeDeclining compliance and collective action is likely to lead to over-extraction of the resource Worsened

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Collective action and the commonscontains
Bans and perverse incentivesrelated
Critique of fortress conservationrelated

Related Studies


Cardenas, Juan Camilo, John Stranlund, and Cleve Willis. 2000. "Local environmental control and institutional crowding-out."  World Development 28 (10):1719-1733.


Vollan, Bjørn. 2008. "Socio-ecological explanations for crowding-out effects from economic field experiments in southern Africa."  Ecological Economics 67 (4):560-573. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2008.01.015.