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Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Jay Jackson


Department of Psychology

University Affiliation

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne


Personal and group interests do not always coincide. When individuals must choose to either cooperate with others to maximize a group incentive, or act in a way that maximizes personal incentives, the resulting conflict is a social dilemma (Dawes, 1980). Traditionally, researchers have focused on cognitive processes, such as cost-benefit analyses, when trying to understand people’s reactions to social dilemmas. Of course, people are also influenced by emotional and social-motivational forces. For example, research has demonstrated that when people are in a good mood, relative to a negative mood, they tend to be more cooperative and helpful. However, such research has focused on individuals in isolation from each other. Several studies have shown that when people interact, they tend to develop a sense of group identity which leads to greater levels of cooperation. The purpose of our research was to determine if having a shared emotional experience, even if it is a negative one, would stimulate feelings of group identity and lead to greater levels of cooperation in response to a social dilemma.

Our participants were PSY 120 students (N = 244). They were randomly assigned to one of six experimental conditions based on our 2 (Social condition: Alone or Group) x 3 (Emotion condition: Negative, Neutral, or Positive) full-factorial design. Participants came to our laboratory in groups of four. They were escorted to isolated cubicles to complete standard measures of personality. Then, they experienced a 6-minute slide show designed to stimulate positive emotions (puppies, a wedding etc.), negative emotions (terrible accident, starving child, etc.) or neutral emotions (a chair, a pencil, etc.). They experienced the slide show slide in isolation (alone condition) or together in a room (group condition). Then they were escorted back to their individual cubicles where they completed standard measures of mood, group identity, and faced a standard social dilemma situation (they had to distribute 100 chips, each worth 5 cents, to a “group account” or “personal account” Cooperation was defined as the number of chips contributed to the group account.

As predicted, participants expressed significantly greater feelings of group identity when they experienced the emotional slideshows with others versus alone. This pattern was stronger for the negative and positive emotion stimuli than for the neutral stimuli. Also consistent with our predictions, group identity had a statistically significant indirect effect on cooperation through two independent processes: (1) normative expectations (believing that the other group members would be cooperative), and (2) having more group-focused thoughts than selfish thoughts while contemplating how many chips to contribute.

In conclusion, the results demonstrate the powerful role that shared emotional experiences, even negative ones, can have on feelings of group cohesion and overt expressions of group cooperation. In addition, our results identify two mechanisms that may help explain why group identification enhances cooperation with others. Specifically, normative expectations and concerns for the group seem to be important mechanisms for understanding this relationship.


Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Shared Emotional Experiences and Cooperative Responses to a Social Dilemma

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