Wise deliberation sustains cooperation


Humans are intuitively cooperative1. Humans are also capable of deliberation, which includes social comparison2, self-reflection3 and mental simulation of the future4. Does deliberation undermine or sustain cooperation? Some studies suggest that deliberation is positively associated with cooperation5, whereas other work indicates that deliberation (vis-à-vis intuition) impairs cooperation in social dilemmas6,7. Do some aspects of reasoning qualify whether deliberation sustains cooperation or impairs it? Here, we propose that wise reasoning810—that is, taking a bigger-picture perspective of the situation, including sensitivity to temporal and social interdependence between events—helps to integrate self-protective and cooperative goals, thereby sustaining cooperation when deliberating. Study 1 demonstrated that individual differences in wise reasoning about personal conflicts moderated the impact of naturalistic and experimentally manipulated deliberation time on cooperation. Studies 2 and 3 manipulated an observer perspective, the key aspect of wise reasoning, which eliminated the negative effect of deliberation time on cooperation. Under these circumstances, participants reported being guided by interdependent goals when making their decisions; thus, in these conditions, deliberation sustained cooperation. Combining scholarship on wisdom and behavioural economics, the present insights qualify the relationship between deliberation and prosociality, and highlight conditions under which wisdom promotes prosociality.

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Figure 1: Effect of wise reasoning on the relationship between experimentally manipulated deliberation (time delay versus no time delay) and cooperation in the PGG.
Figure 2: Effect of observer (versus experiential) deliberation on the relationship between decision time and cooperation in the PGG in studies 2 and 3.
Figure 3: Effects of observer versus experiential viewpoint deliberation on construal and thought processes during the decision in the PGG.


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The present research was funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grants 435-2014-0685 (to I.G.) and 435-2012-0306 (to D.R.B.), and by the John Templeton Foundation Science of Prospection grant (to I.G.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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I.G. provided the initial idea. All authors contributed to the design. J.P.B. collected the data. I.G. and J.P.B. carried out data analysis. All authors contributed to the conceptual analysis of the results. I.G. drafted the manuscript. All authors approved the final manuscript for submission.

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Correspondence to Igor Grossmann or Justin P. Brienza.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Grossmann, I., Brienza, J. & Bobocel, D. Wise deliberation sustains cooperation. Nat Hum Behav 1, 0061 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0061

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