Why do humans cooperate with one another? Is it done out of an inherent desire to be an altruistic person, or are their more sinister motives involved? It’s a question that was central to a new paper published in Psychological Science, which attempts to explain whether or not cooperation among humans is intuitive.
According to David G. Rand, the paper’s author, and an associate professor of psychology, management, and economics at Yale, we develop our instinct to cooperate based on past experiences. His theory, which is called the social heuristics hypothesis, contends that if past instances of cooperation have proven to be beneficial, then cooperating becomes our “default social response.”
In other words, it becomes intuitive. But Rand also suggests that if the situation isn’t optimal for immediate cooperation, we tend to think about it more and weigh our options. New York magazine’s Jesse Singal uses a stranger showing up to your door at 4 a.m. asking for car assistance as an example. “In this case, you might take a few moments to think about it and realize that helping him out yourself probably isn’t the best bet,” Singal writes.
That change in thought process perfectly sums up Rand’s theory that “intuition favors typically advantageous behavior and deliberation favors behavior that is payoff maximizing in the current situation.”
To test his theory, Rand surveyed dozens of past studies on cooperation and found that cooperation in its purest form occurred from an intuitive place, rather than a deliberate one. That means people are more likely to help one another when they act from their gut.
Signal references the Boston Marathon as an example. “In the confusing, bloody moments after the blast, the first impulse of many marathoners, spectators, and law enforcement officers was to bolt immediately in the direction of the carnage, to help anyone they could,” Signal writes. “In a moment of emotion and confusion and very little careful, deliberative theory, that was what came naturally to a lot of people.” Maybe us humans aren't so bad after all.
Learn more about why we cooperate with a copy of The Evolution of Cooperation, and let us know if you react or deliberate when it comes to helping out your fellow humans.