Societal background influences social learning in cooperative decision making

Molleman, Lucas and Gaechter, Simon (2018) Societal background influences social learning in cooperative decision making. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39 (5). pp. 547-555. ISSN 1090-5138

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Humans owe their ecological success to their great capacities for social learning and cooperation: learning from others helps individuals adjust to their environment and can promote cooperation in groups. Classic and recent studies indicate that the cultural organization of societies shapes the influence of social information on decision making and suggest that collectivist values (prioritizing the group relative to the individual) increase tendencies to conform to the majority. However, it is unknown whether and how societal background impacts social learning in cooperative interactions. Here we show that social learning in cooperative decision making systematically varies across two societies. We experimentally compare people's basic propensities for social learning in samples from a collectivist (China) and an individualist society (United Kingdom; total n = 540) in a social dilemma and a coordination game. We demonstrate that Chinese participants base their cooperation decisions on information about their peers much more frequently than their British counterparts. Moreover, our results reveal remarkable societal differences in the type of peer information people consider. In contrast to the consensus view, Chinese participants tend to be substantially less majority-oriented than the British. While Chinese participants are inclined to adopt peer behavior that leads to higher payoffs, British participants tend to cooperate only if sufficiently many peers do so too. These results indicate that the basic processes underlying social transmission are not universal; rather, they vary with cultural conditions. As success-based learning is associated with selfish behavior and majority-based learning can help foster cooperation, our study suggests that in different societies social learning can play diverging roles in the emergence and maintenance of cooperation.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Cooperation; Cultural evolution; Conformity; Collectivism; Human decision-making
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Economics
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Depositing User: Eprints, Support
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2018 08:51
Last Modified: 04 May 2020 19:49

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