Uncalculating Cooperation Is Used to Signal Trustworthiness

59 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2016 Last revised: 10 May 2016

See all articles by Jillian Jordan

Jillian Jordan

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Moshe Hoffman

Harvard University - Program for Evolutionary Dynamics

Martin Nowak

Harvard University

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: January 31, 2016

Abstract

Humans frequently cooperate without carefully weighing the costs and benefits. As a result, people may wind up cooperating when it is not worthwhile to do so. Why risk making costly mistakes? Here, we provide the first experimental demonstration that reputation concerns provide an answer: people cooperate in an uncalculating way in order to signal their trustworthiness to observers. We present two economic game experiments in which uncalculating versus calculating decision-making is operationalized by (i) a subject’s choice of whether to reveal the precise costs of cooperating (Experiment 1) and (ii) the time a subject spends considering these costs (Experiment 2). In both, we find that subjects are more likely to engage in uncalculating cooperation when their decision-making process is observable to others. Furthermore, we confirm that people who engage in uncalculating cooperation are perceived as, and actually are, more trustworthy than people who cooperate in a calculating way. Together, these data provide the first evidence that uncalculating cooperation is used to signal trustworthiness, and is not merely an efficient decision-making strategy that reduces cognitive costs. Our results thus help to explain a range of puzzling behaviors such as extreme altruism, the use of ethical principles, and romantic love.

Keywords: reputation, social evaluation, decision-making, experimental economics

Suggested Citation

Jordan, Jillian and Hoffman, Moshe and Nowak, Martin and Rand, David G., Uncalculating Cooperation Is Used to Signal Trustworthiness (January 31, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2725550 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2725550

Jillian Jordan (Contact Author)

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University ( email )

2211 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Moshe Hoffman

Harvard University - Program for Evolutionary Dynamics ( email )

One Brattle Square, Suite 6
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Martin Nowak

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

David G. Rand

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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