Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Young children and adults: intrinsically motivated to see others helped

This interesting piece from Tomasello and collaborators:

Young children help other people, but it is not clear why. In the current study, we found that 2-year-old children’s sympathetic arousal, as measured by relative changes in pupil dilation, is similar when they themselves help a person and when they see that person being helped by a third party (and sympathetic arousal in both cases is different from that when the person is not being helped at all). These results demonstrate that the intrinsic motivation for young children’s helping behavior does not require that they perform the behavior themselves and thus “get credit” for it, but rather requires only that the other person be helped. Thus, from an early age, humans seem to have genuine concern for the welfare of others.
And, Rand et al. use economic games with adult subjects to demonstrate that cooperation is intuitive, because cooperative heuristics are developed in daily life where cooperation is typically advantageous. This data adds to Kahneman's recent summary of evidence that much of human decision-making is governed by fast and automatic intuitions, rather than by slow, effortful thinking (see Kahneman, D. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Allen Lane, 2011). The Rand et al. abstract
Cooperation is central to human social behaviour. However, choosing to cooperate requires individuals to incur a personal cost to benefit others. Here we explore the cognitive basis of cooperative decision-making in humans using a dual-process framework. We ask whether people are predisposed towards selfishness, behaving cooperatively only through active self-control; or whether they are intuitively cooperative, with reflection and prospective reasoning favouring ‘rational’ self-interest. To investigate this issue, we perform ten studies using economic games. We find that across a range of experimental designs, subjects who reach their decisions more quickly are more cooperative. Furthermore, forcing subjects to decide quickly increases contributions, whereas instructing them to reflect and forcing them to decide slowly decreases contributions. Finally, an induction that primes subjects to trust their intuitions increases contributions compared with an induction that promotes greater reflection. To explain these results, we propose that cooperation is intuitive because cooperative heuristics are developed in daily life where cooperation is typically advantageous. We then validate predictions generated by this proposed mechanism. Our results provide convergent evidence that intuition supports cooperation in social dilemmas, and that reflection can undermine these cooperative impulses.

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