Help me help you

Kevin Lewis

March 12, 2017

Self-deception facilitates interpersonal persuasion

Megan Smith, Robert Trivers & William von Hippel

Journal of Economic Psychology, forthcoming

Self-deception is both commonplace and costly, which raises the question of what purpose it might serve. According to the dominant explanation in psychology and economics, self-deception is an intrapersonal process that fortifies and protects the self from threatening information. An alternative possibility is that self-deception evolved as an interpersonal strategy to persuade others. To investigate interpersonal aspects of self-deception, we gave people a persuasive task and measured their information processing biases and their persuasiveness. Results revealed that people who were financially motivated to persuade another person in a particular direction demonstrated a self-deceptive information processing bias consistent with their persuasive goals. This information processing bias led people to convince themselves of the veracity of their persuasive goal, and subsequently to be more persuasive to others. These findings suggest that self-deception has interpersonal benefits that offset its costs.


Honesty-Humility Under Threat: Self-Uncertainty Destroys Trust Among the Nice Guys

Stefan Pfattheicher & Robert Böhm

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Recent research on humans’ prosociality has highlighted the crucial role of Honesty-Humility, a basic trait in the HEXACO personality model. There is overwhelming evidence that Honesty-Humility predicts prosocial behavior across a vast variety of situations. In the present contribution, we cloud this rosy picture, examining a condition under which individuals high in Honesty-Humility reduce prosocial behavior. Specifically, we propose that under self-uncertainty, it is particularly those individuals high in Honesty-Humility who reduce trust in unknown others and become less prosocial. In 5 studies, we assessed Honesty-Humility, manipulated self-uncertainty, and measured interpersonal trust or trust in social institutions using behavioral or questionnaire measures. In Study 1, individuals high (vs. low) in Honesty-Humility showed higher levels of trust. This relation was mediated by their positive social expectations about the trustworthiness of others. Inducing self-uncertainty decreased trust, particularly in individuals high in Honesty-Humility (Studies 2–5). Making use of measuring the mediator (Studies 2 and 3) and applying a causal chain design (Studies 4a and 4b), it is shown that individuals high in Honesty-Humility reduced trust because self-uncertainty decreased positive social expectations about others. We end with an applied perspective, showing that Honesty-Humility is predictive of trust in social institutions (e.g., trust in the police; Study 5a), and that self-uncertainty undermined trust in the police especially for individuals high in Honesty-Humility (Study 5b). By these means, the present research shows that individuals high in Honesty-Humility are not unconditionally prosocial. Further implications for Honesty-Humility as well as for research on self-uncertainty and trust are discussed.


Signaling Emotion and Reason in Cooperation

Emma Edelman Levine et al.

University of Chicago Working Paper, February 2017

We explore the signal value of emotion and reason in human cooperation. Across four experiments utilizing dyadic prisoner dilemma games, we establish three central results. First, individuals believe that a reliance on emotion signals that one will cooperate more so than a reliance on reason. Second, these beliefs are generally accurate — those who act based on emotion are more likely to cooperate than those who act based on reason. Third, individuals’ behavioral responses towards signals of emotion and reason depends on their own decision mode: those who rely on emotion tend to conditionally cooperate (that is, cooperate only when they believe that their partner has cooperated), whereas those who rely on reason tend to defect regardless of their partner’s signal. These findings shed light on how different decision processes, and lay theories about decision processes, facilitate and impede cooperation.


Theory of Mind predicts cooperative behavior

Gregory DeAngelo & Bryan McCannon

Economics Letters, forthcoming

Explanations for cooperation in Prisoner’s Dilemma games have generated significant interest. While institutional explanations have offered considerable explanatory ability, a psychological measure of Theory of the Mind that measures an individual’s ability to process social and emotional cognition offers new insights. Using this measure, we examine how it explains (un)cooperative behavior. We find that subjects who have higher ToM are less cooperative and extract higher payoffs.


Effects of inter-group status on the pursuit of intra-group status

Jin Wook Chang, Rosalind Chow & Anita Woolley

Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, March 2017, Pages 1–17

This research examines how the status of one’s group influences intra-group behavior and collective outcomes. Two experiments provide evidence that, compared to members of low-status groups, members of high-status groups are more concerned about their intra-group standing, which in turn can increase both the likelihood of competitive and cooperative intra-group behavior. However, whether the desire for intra-group standing manifests via competitive versus cooperative behavior depends on the relevance of the task to the group’s inter-group standing. When the task is not clearly relevant to the group’s status, members of high-status groups are more likely to engage in competitive behavior out of a desire to manage their intra-group status, which, in turn, leads to less desirable collective outcomes. However, when the group’s status is at stake, members of high-status groups seek intra-group status via cooperative behavior, leading to better collective outcomes.


From good institutions to generous citizens: Top-down incentives to cooperate promote subsequent prosociality but not norm enforcement

Michael Stagnaro, Antonio Arechar & David Rand

Cognition, forthcoming

What makes people willing to pay costs to help others, and to punish others’ selfishness? Why does the extent of such behaviors vary markedly across cultures? To shed light on these questions, we explore the role of formal institutions in shaping individuals’ prosociality and punishment. In Study 1 (N = 707), American participants who reported living under higher quality cooperation-enforcing institutions (police and courts) gave significantly more in a Dictator Game (DG), but did not punish significantly more in a Third-Party Punishment Game (TPPG). In Study 1R (N = 1705), we replicated the positive relationship between reported institutional quality and DG giving observed in Study 1. In Study 2 (N = 516), we experimentally manipulated institutional quality in a repeated Public Goods Game with a centralized punishment institution. Consistent with the correlational results of Study 1 and 1R, we found that centralized punishment led to significantly more prosociality in a subsequent DG compared to a no-punishment control, but had no significant direct effect on subsequent TPPG punishment (only an indirect effect via increased DG giving). Thus we present convergent evidence that the quality of institutions one is exposed to “spills over” to subsequent prosociality but not punishment. These findings support a theory of social heuristics, suggest boundary conditions on spillover effects of cooperation, and demonstrate the power of effective institutions for instilling habits of virtue and creating cultures of cooperation.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.