New study rebuts increase in willingness to cooperate from intuitive thinking

June 5, 2013

A study that was presented in Nature last year attracted a great deal of attention when it asserted that intuition promotes cooperation. But a group of researchers in behavioral and neuroeconomics at Linköping University say that this is not true, in a new study now being published in Nature.

The first study drew the conclusion that people cooperate more if they are forced to make decisions when pressed for time. The research group (Rand et al.) let the test subjects make decisions under pressure on social dilemmas. They found that the decisions made at the time were more oriented towards . The conclusion was that decisions under pressure that build on intuition promote cooperation. It has gotten a lot of attention and aroused a great deal of discussion.

But it is not true, argues a group of researchers at several universities, including Linköping University. In a new study now being presented in Nature, they show that being forced to decide under pressure of time has no effect on the desire to cooperate.

"Our findings cast serious doubt over the idea of people as intuitively willing to cooperate," says Gustav Tinghög, part of the group for behavioural and .

How decisions are made is a major issue for research in this field. People have two decision-making systems in the : an intuitive one, and a more reflective analytical one. Both systems, however, can be rational, and they integrate with each other in various decision-making situations, Tinghög emphasises.

"Humanity's survival here on Earth is built on rationally grounded ."

When and where we choose to cooperate is an issue that especially interests . to collaborate is often tested in what are known as "social dilemmas", where the choice is between making a decision that benefits the group but is costly for the one person, or one that helps only oneself. The classical theory of Homo economicus says that in every situation, people will choose what maximises their own benefit, even if that does not contribute to everyone's best interests.

In the study by the Linköping researchers, conducted along with colleagues from the United States and Austria, 2,500 people in the three countries were asked to choose between keeping a given sum of money for themselves, or split a greater sum total among a group of four people, in which they themselves were included.

Half of the in the randomised study decided under pressure. The others were made to wait before they were allowed to respond. The study shows no difference between those who made decisions under pressure and those who were made to wait. The Linköping researchers' conclusion is that it is not true that quick, intuitively grounded decisions promote cooperation.

The study also shows that the results from the earlier study can be explained through errors in the statistical analysis.

Explore further: Can intuition resolve Christmas gift dilemmas? New research suggests it can help

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