The Cost of Cooperating (David Rand)

“Why is it that we care about other people? Why do we have those feelings? Also, at a cognitive level, how is that implemented? Another way of asking this is: Are we predisposed to be selfish? Do we only get ourselves to be cooperative and work for the greater good by exerting self-control and rational deliberation, overriding those selfish impulses? Or are we predisposed towards cooperating, but in these situations where cooperation doesn’t actually pay, if we stop and think about it, rationality and deliberation lead us to be selfish by overriding the impulse to be a good person and help other people?

 I’m most interested in understanding cooperation, that is to say, why people are willing to act for the greater good rather than their narrow self-interest. In thinking about that question, there’s both a scientific part of understanding how the selfish process of natural selection and strategic reasoning could give rise to this cooperative behavior, and also the practical question of what we can do to make people more cooperative in real-world settings. “

” The way that I think about this is at two general different levels. One is an institutional level. How can you arrange interactions in a way that makes people inclined to cooperate? Most of that boils down to “how do you make it in people’s long-run self-interests to be cooperative?” The other part is trying to understand at a more mechanistic or psychological/cognitive level what’s going on inside people’s heads while they’re making cooperation decisions; in particular, in situations where there’s not any self-interested motive to cooperate, lots of people still cooperate. I want to understand how exactly that happens. ”

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