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The cognitive basis of variable cooperation in humans

English title The cognitive basis of variable cooperation in humans
Applicant Bshary Redouan
Number 156827
Funding scheme Interdisciplinary projects
Research institution Institut de Biologie Faculté des Sciences Université de Neuchâtel
Institution of higher education University of Neuchatel - NE
Main discipline Ecology
Start/End 01.01.2015 - 31.12.2017
Approved amount 355'821.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Ecology
Psychology

Keywords (3)

theory of mind; cooperation; group membership

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Es ist eine typisch menschliche Fähigkeit, sich in andere Mitmenschen hinein zu versetzen (‚Theory of mind‘). Diese Fähigkeit erlaubt es, Mitmenschen als unabhängige Individuen mit eigenen Vorstellungen, Ideen, Zielen und mentalen Prozessen wahrzunehmen. Unsere Entscheidung und Verhalten werden sehr stark von dieser Fähigkeit beeinflusst. Nichtsdestotrotz gibt es bisher sehr wenige Studien über den täglichen Gebrauch von ‚Theory of mind‘, und wir wissen nur wenig unter welchen Bedingungen unterschiedliche Formen von ‚Theory of Mind‘ angewendet werden.
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziele des Forschungsprojekts

Unser Ziel ist es zu verstehen, inwieweit die menschliche Fähigkeit, sich in andere hinein zu versetzen (‚theory of mind‘), für unsere aussergewöhnliche Fähigkeit zu kooperieren verantwortlich ist. Menschliche Kooperation zu verstehen ist eine der grossen Herausforderungen für die Evolutionsbiologie. Wir werden untersuchen, inwieweit ‚Theory of mind‘ uns erlaubt, selektiv mit geeigneten Partnern zu kooperieren und gleichzeitig wachsam gegenüber möglichen Konkurrenten zu sein. Eine entscheidende Rolle könnte dabei Gruppenzugehörigkeit liefern. Wir werden deshalb diesen Faktor in verschiedenen Experimenten untersuchen und bestimmen, wie er sich auf die Konversation zwischen Partnern auswirkt, und wie diese wiederum menschliches Kooperationsverhalten beeinflusst.

 

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext des Forschungsprojekts

Das Projekt befasst sich in erster Linie mit Grundlagenforschung. Die Integration von Konzepten und Methoden aus Psychologie und evolutionärer Biologie wird uns hoffentlich erlauben, neue Einblicke in die menschliche Fähigkeit zu kooperieren zu gewinnen. Insbesondere der funktionale Ansatz zu ‚Theory of mind‘ ist bisher kaum beachtet worden. Ein besseres Verständnis der Umstände, unter denen Menschen grosszügig sind oder eher kalkulierend könnte auch für angewandte Projekte von Nutzen sein.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 19.12.2014

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Endogenous oxytocin predicts helping and conversation as a function of group membership
McClung Jennifer Susan, Triki Zegni, Clément Fabrice, Bangerter Adrian, Bshary Redouan (2018), Endogenous oxytocin predicts helping and conversation as a function of group membership, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285(1882), 20180939-20180939.
The language of cooperation: shared intentionality drives variation in helping as a function of group membership
McClung Jennifer Susan, Placì Sarah, Bangerter Adrian, Clément Fabrice, Bshary Redouan (2017), The language of cooperation: shared intentionality drives variation in helping as a function of group membership, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1863), 20171682-20171682.

Datasets

McClung et al Egg Hunt data.xlsx

Author McClung, Jennifer
Publication date 01.09.2017
Persistent Identifier (PID) doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.4294091.v1
Repository Figshare
Abstract
This data set was produced from a novel optimal foraging paradigm, the Egg Hunt, in which pairs of participants could choose whether to help each other at either no-cost or a cost to themselves. Participants were also allocated to either talking or non-talking conditions. As such it contains data on frequency of helping behaviour as well as data on the frequency with which participants produced different types of utterances when they were able to talk during the hunt.

Endogenous oxytocin predicts helping and conversation as a function of group membership

Author McClung, Jennifer
Persistent Identifier (PID) doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.5620429
Repository Figshare


Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Centre des sciences cognitives/Neuchâtel Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions Portes ouvertes faculté des sciences Western Switzerland 2016

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
173334 How proximate factors underlying decision making may affect the evolution and maintenance of cooperation 01.05.2017 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

One hallmark of human cognition is the ability to attribute mental states to others, i.e. to construct a ‘theory of mind’ of others. This ability to understand people as guided by an inner, mental world made of beliefs, desires, and intentions pervades our social world and motivates many of our decisions and behaviour. However, past research on theory of mind has focused on its development and abnormal forms while only a few studies have looked at how normal adults use a fully developed theory of mind. Thus, it remains rather unclear how and when the normal theory of mind is deployed, and which selective forces favoured the evolution of a theory of mind uniquely in humans rather than in various other animal species. With this project, we aim to study theory of mind usage in social contexts in order to understand its potential role in the evolution of cooperation in humans. Humans can be strikingly more cooperative than any other species, particularly with unrelated individuals, precluding kin selection as a potential explanation for this increase in helping behaviour. In this context, it is a major challenge for evolutionary scientists to understand why humans often behave more cooperatively in laboratory based economic games than predicted by either evolutionary game theory or its economic equivalent “homo economicus”, which both assume maximal monetary gain as the goal in cooperation. Interestingly, humans are not indiscriminately helpful: social factors are highly influential. One powerful social force is perceived group membership in that we help and cooperate more with in-group members. Given that between-group competition is a major selective force in human evolutionary history, the evolution of utility functions other than maximal monetary gain during interactions with in-group members may have been under positive selection. We propose to test the hypothesis that theory of mind interacting with group membership provides a mechanism to facilitate cooperative strategies when dealing with in-group members and more competitive strategies when dealing with out-group members. We predict that differential use of theory of mind is what underlies the ability to understand and subsequently predict behaviour in the different cooperative contexts exemplified in economic games.Our methods combine tools from cognitive and social psychology with evolutionary biology. A first diary study will provide a baseline measure of both spontaneous cooperation in the natural world and the effect of group membership on spontaneous theory of mind. In an experimental phase we will use three economic games that differ in the degree of potential conflict between partners: the prisoner’s dilemma game (maximal conflict), the stag hunt game (a coordination game), and a by-product mutualism game (maximal cooperation). We will then employ a paradigm designed for this project to gauge spontaneous cognition in a naturalistic physical coordination task. Perceived group membership will be manipulated to study how categorization influences the cognition involved in cooperation. In a second set of experiments we will test the causal role of theory of mind in cooperation by priming participants to perceive their partner in either dehumanised or mentalistic terms before playing the three games. In all experiments, linguistic communication will be controlled and compared. In addition, we will take saliva samples before and after experiments to assess how our manipulations affect participants’ physiological state, measuring two neurohormones (oxytocin and vasopressin) known to affect human helping behaviour. By introducing cognitive psychology to the analysis of cooperative (and competitive) interactions we hope to understand the usage of theory of mind in social contexts, its potential effects on physiology, and the variation in human cooperative behaviour. Results will inform both social scientists and biologists as to how our distinctly human cognition has helped us achieve our uniquely evolved cooperation.
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