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Collective-Goal Ascription Increases Cooperation in Humans
Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Author: Panagiotis Mitkidis et al.

by Panagiotis Mitkidis, Jesper Sørensen, Kristoffer L. Nielbo, Marc Andersen, Pierre Lienard


Cooperation is necessary in many types of human joint activity and relations. Evidence suggests that cooperation has direct and indirect benefits for the cooperators. Given how beneficial cooperation is overall, it seems relevant to investigate the various ways of enhancing individuals' willingness to invest in cooperative endeavors. We studied whether ascription of a transparent collective goal in a joint action promotes cooperation in a group.


A total of 48 participants were assigned in teams of 4 individuals to either a “transparent goal-ascription” or an “opaque goal-ascription” condition. After the manipulation, the participants played an anonymous public goods game with another member of their team. We measured the willingness of participants to cooperate and their expectations about the other player's contribution.


Between subjects analyses showed that transparent goal ascription impacts participants' likelihood to cooperate with each other in the future, thereby greatly increasing the benefits from social interactions. Further analysis showed that this could be explained with a change in expectations about the partner's behavior and by an emotional alignment of the participants.


The study found that a transparent goal ascription is associated with an increase of cooperation. We propose several high-level mechanisms that could explain the observed effect: general affect modulation, trust, expectation and perception of collective efficacy.