When The Boss Is In, Everyone Plays Nice: Study

Concern over a person’s reputation in the eyes of an authority figure, like a village elder, may encourage cooperation with others, a study shows.

AsianScientist (Aug. 12, 2016) – People’s concerns about their reputation with an authority figure may encourage them to cooperate with others, according to a study of a foraging society in Papua New Guinea. The work was published in Nature Communications.

A person’s desire to have a particular reputation in a given society is one example of an evolutionary basis of human cooperative behavior. Past evidence for this human behavior comes from laboratory settings where one’s social image is artificially created—for example, through computer simulations.

Dr. Gianluca Grimalda, from the Institute for the World Economy in Germany, and colleagues examined the human cooperative behavior of the Teop, a small and tightly-knit society in Papua New Guinea. The Teop’s social structure is centered on a village elder with the informal authority to impose discipline on community members. This so-called ‘Big Man’ acts as a guardian of morality, and is at the center of the Teop’s social network.

During the course of the study, a group of Teop worked together efficiently in a social economic game while the Big Man was watching—but not intervening. This cooperative behavior was reduced when an unfamiliar Big Man from another village was watching. Game players also punished non-cooperative members to a lesser degree when the Big Man was watching.

These results show that concern over social image from a real person of social authority can promote cooperative behavior more so than the imagined concerns about one’s reputation. This research also suggests that positive social reputation promotes cooperative behavior better than the punishment of non-cooperators.

The article can be found at: Grimalda et al. (2016) Social Image Concerns Promote Cooperation More than Altruistic Punishment.


Source: Nature Communications; Photo: Shutterstock.
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