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Who Cooperates and Who Competes?

15 February, 2016 - 10:55

Although we have to this point focused on how situational variables, such as the nature of the payoffs in the matrix, increase the likelihood that we will compete rather than cooperate, not everyone is influenced the same way by the situation—the personality characteristics of the individuals also matter. In general, people who are more self-oriented are more likely to compete, whereas people who are more other-oriented are more likely to cooperate (Balliet, Parks, & Joireman, 2009; Sagiv, Sverdlik, & Schwarz, 2011). For instance, Campbell, Bush, Brunell, and Shelton (2005) found that students who were highly narcissistic (i.e., very highly self-focused) competed more in a resource dilemma and took more of the shared resource for themselves than did the other people playing the game.

Research Focus: Self- and Other-Orientations in Social Dilemmas

Paul Van Lange and his colleagues (Van Lange, 1999; Van Lange & Kuhlman, 1994) have focused on the person determinants of cooperation by characterizing individuals as one of two types—those who are “pro-social,” meaning that they are high on other-concern and value cooperation, and those who are “pro-self” and thus tend to behave in a manner that enhances their own outcomes by trying to gain advantage over others by making competitive choices.
Sonja Utz (2004) tested how people who were primarily self-concerned would respond differently than those who were primarily other-concerned when the self-concept was activated. In her research, male and female college students first completed a measure designed to assess whether they were more pro-social or more pro-self in orientation. On this measure, the participants had to make choices about whether to give points to themselves or to another person on a series of tasks. The students who tended to favor themselves were classified as pro-self, whereas those who tended to favor others were classified as pro-social.
Then all the students read a story describing a trip to a nearby city. However, while reading the story, half of the students (the self-priming condition) were asked to circle all the pronouns occurring in the story. These pronouns were arranged to be self-relevant and thus to activate the self-concept—“I,” “we,” “my,” and so forth. The students in the control condition, however, were instructed to circle the prepositions, which were not self-relevant (e.g., “of” and “after”).
Finally, the students participated in a series of games in which they had to make a choice between two alternative distributions of points between themselves and another person. As you can see Figure 12.8, the self-manipulation influenced the pro-self students (who were primarily self-oriented already) in a way that they became even less cooperative and more self-serving. However, the students who were initially pro-social became even more cooperative when the self-concept was activated.

Figure 12.8 Priming Self-Concept 
Priming the self-concept increased cooperation for those who were other-concerned but increased competition for those who were self-concerned. Data are from Utz (2004).  

Although it is possible that people are either self-concerned or other-concerned, another possibility is that people vary on both of these dimensions simultaneously, such that some people may be high on both self-concern and other-concern. The dual-concern model of cooperation and competition (Pruitt & Rubin, 1986) is based on this approach, and the four resulting personality types are outlined in Figure 12.9. The dual-concern model suggests that individuals will relate to social dilemmas, or other forms of conflict, in different ways, depending on their underlying personal orientations or as influenced by the characteristics of the situation that orient them toward a given concern. Individuals who are focused primarily on their own outcomes but who do not care about the goals of others are considered to be contending in orientation. These individuals are expected to try to take advantage of the other party, for instance, by withholding their contributions in social dilemmas. Those who are focused primarily on the others’ outcomes, however, will be yielding and likely to make cooperative choices. Individuals who are not concerned about the interests of either the self or others are inactive and unlikely to care about the situation or to participate in solving it at all.

Figure 12.9 The Dual-Concern Model 

The interesting prediction of the dual-concern model is that being concerned with one’s own outcomes is not necessarily harmful to the possibility of cooperation. The individuals who are focused on maximizing their own outcomes but who are also concerned with the needs of the others (the problem solvers) are expected to be as likely to cooperate as are those who are yielding. In fact, the dual-concern model suggests that these individuals may be the best negotiators of all because they are likely to go beyond the trap posed by the dilemma itself, searching for ways to produce new and creative solutions through creative thinking and compromise.