Purpose & Prosocial Behavior
In exploring the human experience of purpose, the NPP project has identified several core themes that are particularly significant, and which provide a useful framework for organizing our activities. This page displays the content from this website tagged for one of those themes: Purpose & Prosocial Behavior.
Work on Purpose & Prosocial Behavior is centered on the discovery of factors that attract individuals to prosocial behaviors like volunteering, teaching, and serving others. Here, we ask questions like: To what extent are the factors that promote the initiation of prosocial behavior the same as the factors which best sustain ongoing prosocial behavior? When are “push” factors more or less effective than “pull” factors in initiating and sustaining helping behavior? See below for content related to our emerging insights.
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How to Create New Paths to Purpose?
New Paths to Purpose is a project aimed at using behavioral science to transform how we think about and experience purpose - to scientifically explore how purpose may, much more than we recognize, reflect and propel everyday patterns of human thought and behavior. [Time: 1:40]
New Paths to Purpose: Project Descriptions
New Paths to Purpose is a project aimed at using behavioral science to transform how we think about and experience purpose - to scientifically explore how purpose may, much more than we recognize, reflect and propel everyday patterns of human thought and behavior. [Time 2:24]
New Paths to Purpose Project Infographic
Waste Management: How Reducing Partiality Can Promote Efficient Resource Allocation
Two central principles that guide resource-allocation decisions are equity (providing equal pay for equal work) and efficiency (not wasting resources). When these two principles conflict with one another, people will often waste resources to avoid inequity. We suggest that people wish to avoid inequity not because they find it inherently unfair, but because they want to avoid the appearance of partiality associated with it. We explore one way to reduce waste by reducing the perceived partiality of inequitable allocations. Specifically, we hypothesize that people will be more likely to favor an efficient (albeit inequitable) allocation if it puts them in a disadvantaged position than if it puts others in a disadvantaged position. To test this hypothesis, we asked participants to choose between giving some extra resource to one person (thereby creating inequity between this person and equally deserving others) and not giving the resource to anyone (thereby wasting the resource). Six studies, using realistic scenarios and behavioral paradigms, provide robust evidence for a self-disadvantaging effect: Allocators were consistently more likely to create inequity to avoid wasting resources when the resulting inequity would put them at a relative disadvantage than when it would put others at a relative disadvantage. We further find that this self-disadvantaging effect is a direct result of people's concern about appearing partial. Our findings suggest the importance of impartiality even in distributive justice, thereby bridging a gap between the distributive and procedural justice literatures.
Choshen-Hillel, S., Shaw, A., Caruso, E.M. (2015). Waste management: how reducing partiality can promote efficient resource allocation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109, 210-231. doi: 10.1037/pspa0000028
Promoting Cooperation in the Field
We review the growing literature of field experiments designed to promote cooperative behavior in policy-relevant settings outside the laboratory (e.g. conservation, charitable donations, voting). We focus on four categories of intervention that have been well studied. We find that material rewards and increased efficacy, interventions focused on altering the costs and benefits of giving, have at best mixed success. Social Interventions based on observability and descriptive norms, conversely, are consistently highly effective. We then demonstrate how a theoretical framework based on reciprocity and reputation concerns explains why Social Interventions are typically more effective than Cost–Benefit Interventions, and suggests ways to make Cost–Benefit Interventions more effective. We conclude by discussing other less-studied types of intervention, and promising directions for future research.
Kraft-Todd, G., Yoeli, E., Bhanot, S., Rand, D.G. (2015). Promoting cooperation in the field. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 3, 96-101. DOI:10.1016/j.cobeha.2015.02.006
The Collective Benefits of Feeling Good and Letting Go
Cooperation is central to human existence, forming the bedrock of everyday social relationships and larger societal structures. Thus, understanding the psychological underpinnings of cooperation is of both scientific and practical importance. Recent work using a dual-process framework suggests that intuitive processing can promote cooperation while deliberative processing can undermine it. Here we add to this line of research by more specifically identifying deliberative and intuitive processes that affect cooperation. To do so, we applied automated text analysis using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software to investigate the association between behavior in one-shot anonymous economic cooperation games and the presence inhibition (a deliberative process) and positive emotion (an intuitive process) in free-response narratives written after (Study 1, N = 4,218) or during (Study 2, N = 236) the decision-making process. Consistent with previous results, across both studies inhibition predicted reduced cooperation while positive emotion predicted increased cooperation (even when controlling for negative emotion). Importantly, there was a significant interaction between positive emotion and inhibition, such that the most cooperative individuals had high positive emotion and low inhibition. This suggests that inhibition (i.e., reflective or deliberative processing) may undermine cooperative behavior by suppressing the prosocial effects of positive emotion.
Rand, D.G., Kraft-Todd, G., Gruber, J. (2015). The collective benefits of feeling good and letting go: Positive emotion and (dis)inhibition interact to predict cooperative behavior. PLoS ONE 10(1): e0117426. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0117426
Limit Cycles Sparked by Mutation in the Repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma
We explore a replicator-mutator model of the repeated Prisoner's Dilemma involving three strategies: always cooperate (ALLC), always defect (ALLD), and tit-for-tat (TFT). The dynamics resulting from single unidirectional mutations are considered, with detailed results presented for the mutations TFT
Toupo D.F.P., Rand D.G., Strogatz, S.H. (2015). Limit cycles sparked by mutation in the repeated Prisoner's Dilemma. International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos, 24, 1430035. DOI: 10.1142/S0218127414300353
Time Pressure Increases Cooperation in Competitively Framed Social Dilemmas
What makes people willing to pay costs to benefit others? Does such cooperation require effortful self-control, or do automatic, intuitive processes favor cooperation? Time pressure has been shown to increase cooperative behavior in Public Goods Games, implying a predisposition towards cooperation. Consistent with the hypothesis that this predisposition results from the fact that cooperation is typically advantageous outside the lab, it has further been shown that the time pressure effect is undermined by prior experience playing lab games (where selfishness is the more advantageous strategy). Furthermore, a recent study found that time pressure increases cooperation even in a game framed as a competition, suggesting that the time pressure effect is not the result of social norm compliance. Here, we successfully replicate these findings, again observing a positive effect of time pressure on cooperation in a competitively framed game, but not when using the standard cooperative framing. These results suggest that participants' intuitions favor cooperation rather than norm compliance, and also that simply changing the framing of the Public Goods Game is enough to make it appear novel to participants and thus to restore the time pressure effect.
Cone, J., Rand, D.G. (2014). Time pressure increases cooperation in competitively framed social dilemmas. Plos ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0115756
Harnessing Reciprocity to Promote Cooperation and the Provisioning of Public Goods
Rand, D.G., Yoeli, E., Hoffman, M. (2014) Harnessing reciprocity to promote cooperation and the provisioning of public goods. Policy Insights from Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 263-269.
Static Network Structure Can Stabilize Human Cooperation
The evolution of cooperation in network-structured populations has been a major focus of theoretical work in recent years. When players are embedded in fixed networks, cooperators are more likely to interact with, and benefit from, other cooperators. In theory, this clustering can foster cooperation on fixed networks under certain circumstances. Laboratory experiments with humans, however, have thus far found no evidence that fixed network structure actually promotes cooperation. Here, we provide such evidence and help to explain why others failed to find it. First, we show that static networks can lead to a stable high level of cooperation, outperforming well-mixed populations. We then systematically vary the benefit that cooperating provides to one’s neighbors relative to the cost required to cooperate (b/c), as well as the average number of neighbors in the network (k). When b/c > k, we observe high and stable levels of cooperation. Conversely, when b/c ≤ k or players are randomly shuffled, cooperation decays. Our results are consistent with a quantitative evolutionary game theoretic prediction for when cooperation should succeed on networks and, for the first time to our knowledge, provide an experimental demonstration of the power of static network structure for stabilizing human cooperation.
Rand, D.G., Nowak, M.A., Fowler J.H., Christakis, N.A. (2014) Static network structure can stabilize human cooperation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 17093-17098.