Small Groups of Leaders Influence Human Tendency Toward Cooperation

Small Groups of Leaders Influence Human Tendency Toward Cooperation

Small groups of leaders influence the human tendency towards cooperation. Humans are social animals. Because they live in groups, not in isolation, they have a large influence on one another. A new study has examined how people can prompt their fellow citizens to behave in a social manner, i.e., work together to achieve a common goal. Is it possible to control cooperation in large groups of people?

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plӧn have demonstrated how people compel each other. Individuals do not have much control over group dynamics, but if they join forces with like-minded people they can easily sway large, complex groups. People can achieve more when they act together. The scientists at the Planck Institute used game theory to calculate the success of groups directed by a team of cooperating people. The study, Cooperation and Control in Multiplayer Social Dilemmas was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Game theory is the study of decision making based on strategy and weighing outcomes. Mathematical models predict the conflict and cooperation that occur between rational, intelligent decision-makers. Game theory is used to predict the behavior of individuals and large groups in economics, political science, psychology, logic, biology and computer science. The games used to develop the mathematical formulas have very strict guidelines and rules. Players, choices and possible outcomes are clearly specified.

One example of a zero-sum gum is “the prisoner’s choice.” In this common game there are two prisoners in loose cahoots who committed a crime. Not having enough evidence to convict them of the crime, the police will have to settle for a lesser charge unless they can get the prisoners to turn against each other. Each prisoner is given a deal – inform on the other prisoner and go free. If both prisoners do not inform, they will each enjoy a reduced sentence and a less severe charge. If they both talk, they will be in jail for two years. If only one informs, that prisoner will be set free and the other will go to prison for three years. The best outcome for each individual occurs if he or she accuses the other of the crime, but the other prisoner remains silent. The only way to ensure avoiding a three year stay in the pen is to inform, but the best outcome for both is if they remain silent and serve one year. Mutual cooperation provides the most beneficial result for the group. Game theory would predict betrayal, but in reality, humans are much more likely to cooperate and seek a more generous solution. When the game is tweaked to incorporate multiple players that can form coalitions the predictions and the results are closer to a real representation of altruistic humans.

Social mentality is not a new concept to researchers. A dance video went viral in 2010 that illustrates the concept perfectly. At the Sasquatch Music Festival, one lone dancer gyrated wildly to the music. He was ignored until another man joined him 20 seconds later. The two continued to dance alone for another thirty seconds until a third person rushed to join them. Another 20 seconds and two more people jumped in. Suddenly, hordes of festival-goers began streaming in from all directions. People were running and leaping over others to participate. People who had been sitting for over a minute barely watching finally stood up and joined in. It became a huge dance party. One desolate dancer did not start the mad rush. Even two dancers were left alone by the crowd, but when three danced together they influenced the crowd mentality and changed its behavior.

The new study on cooperative behavior demonstrates that every person can impact group dynamics if they join forces with a few other like-minded individuals. By their nature, humans are swayed by what others are doing and tend to want to jump onto any bandwagon. Forming alliances allows people to guide large groups.  Small teams of leaders influence humans’ natural tendency towards cooperation.

By: Rebecca Savastio









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