The Social Heuristics Hypothesis claims that cooperation is intuitive because it is positively reinforced in everyday life, where behaviour typically has reputational consequences1,2. Consequently, participants will cooperate in anonymous laboratory settings unless they either reflect on the one-shot nature of the interaction or learn through experience with such settings that cooperation does not promote self-interest. Experiments reveal that cognitive-processing manipulations (which increase reliance on either intuition or deliberation) indeed affect cooperation3, but may also introduce confounds4,5. Here, we elide the interpretation issues created by between-subjects designs in showing that people are less cooperative over time in laboratory paradigms in which cooperation cannot promote self-interest, but are just as cooperative over time in paradigms that have the potential to promote self-interest. Contrary to previous findings6,7, we find that cooperation is equally intuitive for men and women: unilateral giving did not differ across gender at the first study session, and decreased equally for both genders across sessions.

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Research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation (award no. 29165) to M.E.M. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. Research was sponsored by the Army Research Laboratory and was accomplished under Cooperative Agreement Number W911NF-18-2-0194. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the Army Research Laboratory or the US Government. The US Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for government purposes notwithstanding any copyright notation herein.

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  1. Department of Psychology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA

    • William H. B. McAuliffe
    • , Daniel E. Forster
    • , Eric J. Pedersen
    •  & Michael E. McCullough
  2. US Army Research Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, USA

    • Daniel E. Forster
  3. Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA

    • Eric J. Pedersen


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M.E.M., W.H.B.M., E.J.P. and D.E.F. conceived of the study. E.J.P., D.E.F. and W.H.B.M. programmed the study, and W.H.B.M. managed data collection. D.E.F. and W.H.B.M. analysed the data and interpreted results. W.H.B.M. drafted the manuscript. W.H.B.M., D.E.F., E.J.P. and M.E.M. revised the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael E. McCullough.

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