Projects on Cooperation


Find descriptions of research projects on cooperation below. Visit the researcher's webpage by clicking on his/her name.


The Psychology of Helping

Researchers: Paul van Lange, Esther van Leeuwen, Jan-Willem van Prooijen

One of the projects is centered around intervention by informal guardians. Guardianship is defined as “any spatio-temporally specific supervision of people or property by other people which may prevent criminal violations from occurring”. Sometimes, despite the availability of a possible guardian, a transgression or crime does occur. Research indicates that in many of those situations, people do not undertake any form of action. Interestingly, many people do not simply ignore the situation, they seem to remain in a state of shock and awe. One of the explanations for this can be found in the “bystander effect”. Although this is textbook material for social psychology, very little is known about the social, and spatiotemporal factors that underlie this effect. This seems especially true for these factors on a microlevel. For instance, it is very likely that fear plays an important factor in the decision to become an active guardian or not. But fear of what exactly? Fear for getting hurt yourself, or of making things worse, or even of rejection by the other non-intervening bystanders? Will hardening of property, and territoriality cause people to feel less responsible to intervene? And what role does empathy play? When will it overcome fear, and lack of a sense of responsibility? Within this research project, we will seek answers to these and many related questions.

Another project looks at factors that hinder or promote helping between groups. Under certain conditions high status groups may be willing to help low status groups to re-affirm the hierarchy between groups. But what kind of help is being offered? We make a distinction between autonomy and dependence-orientated help. High status groups may be willing to offer the latter but will low status groups accept such help. In this project we look at the conditions of accepting or refusing help in an intergroup context in both the lab and in field settings (e.g., Panama).


Fairness, Politics, and Conspiracies

Researchers: Paul van Lange, Jan-Willem van Prooijen

What determines whether or not we believe that others act fairly or unfairly, and what are the behavioral consequences of such justice beliefs? The present project examines the extent to which perceived distributive, procedural, and retributive fairness influences people’s willingness to cooperate in dyadic interactions or groups. Indeed, acts of fairness shape a range of cooperative behaviors, including compliance, effort on behalf of the group, and (un)ethical behavior. However, in many everyday life situations people base their fairness judgments on expectations, not on actually perceived behavior. How do we interpret others’ behavior when we lack important such pieces of information? Do we give others the benefit of the doubt, believing that they behave in a fair or even generous manner? Or do we “fill in the blanks” with self-interest? Based on previous research showing that global beliefs about others in general are guided by self-interest, the present project aims to demonstrate that in people’s attempts to make sense of the social environment, they fill in the missing information with a self-interest frame of mind. Such a belief in self-interest, combined with fundamental desires for sense-making, can potentially lead to distrust and even paranoia. These paranoid beliefs may culminate in a belief in conspiracy theories, which is a common but harmful response to impactful societal events. The overarching theme of this project is how perceptions and expectations of (un)fairness determine cooperation on the one hand, and belief in conspiracy theories on the other.


Social Dilemmas and Human Cooperation

Researchers: Daniel Balliet, Paul van Lange, Joshua Tybur, Mark van Vugt

Social dilemmas are everywhere in society. To resolve social dilemmas requires humans to cooperate with each other for the benefit of the group or the society to which they belong. We study different forms of cooperation both in the laboratory (economic games) and in the field with the use of behavioral and neuropsychological techniques (such as fMRI). We study different forms of cooperation such as volunteering, charity donations and pro-environmental behaviors. It is vital to understand the biological, social and psychological mechanisms underlying human cooperation, because this might help in resolving social dilemmas. In one project we look at the role of moral disgust in fostering cooperation. In another project we examine whether there are reputation benefits associated with green behaviors for individuals and organizations. Finally, we examine the role of individual differences in the extent to which people cooperate in resolving social dilemmas.


The Psychology and Neuroscience of Altruism, Norm Violation, and Social Mindfulness

Researchers: Roy Baumeister, Paul van Lange, Thomas Pollet, Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Francesca Righetti

One of the key emotions that triggers altruism is empathy.  Under some well-defined circumstances in which empathy is activated, people, even young people, can reach a motivational state that includes a strong concern to enhance outcomes for others (altruism).  This fascinating topic address not only basic questions about the existence of altruism, but also the ways in which people are able or unable to “see” how their own actions might impact other’s welfare. And we examine aggression, corruption, and more subtle forms of norm violations. Although one may not always see it, social life often involves choices where people act in ways that are mindful of others or not.  By examining the novel concept of social mindfulness, we focus on other-regarding choices involving both skill (to see it, e.g., Theory of Mind, perspective taking) and will (to do it, e.g., empathic concern, prosocial orientation).  The project focuses on various samples (e.g., children, psychiatric patients, professional soccer players), addresses the antecedents and consequences of altruism and social mindfulness, including fMRI research, and seeks to understand the trainability of automatic forms of social mindfulness and altruism.