10. Working Groups: Performance and Decision Making
- Compare and contrast cooperation, conflict, and competition.
- Explain the concepts of public goods and social dilemmas, and how these conflicts influence human interactions.
- Describe the principles of the prisoner’s dilemma game that make it an effective model for studying social dilemmas.
- Outline the variables that increase competition.
- Summarize the principles of negotiation.
- Discuss different solutions that may be reached in a negotiation.
The Collapse of Atlantic Canada’s Cod Fishery
“Why are you abusing me, I didn’t take the fish out of the goddamned water.” These famous words were uttered by John Crosbie, the federal minister of fisheries and oceans in Canada on July 1, 1992, when he met with a group of fishers who were upset about the alarming decline in the cod population. A day later (under police protection), Crosbie announced that a moratorium would be imposed on fishing North Atlantic cod, an action that effectively put 40,000 people out of work overnight. More than 20 years later there is little sign of growth in the cod population and the moratorium is still in place.
For generations of Atlantic fishers who had grown used to an ocean full of fish, this was an unfathomable outcome. Yet it was this very reputation of an ocean teeming with cod that had attracted giant fishing trawlers from distant countries to the waters off the coast of Newfoundland since the 1950s. As the fish stocks dwindled, the trawlers began to use sonar, satellite navigation, and new techniques to dredge the ocean floor to collect entire schools of cod. As you can see in Figure 10.10, the annual cod catch fell dramatically, from a high of 800,000 tons in 1968 to less than 200,000 tons a decade later.
Even as awareness of the problem grew in the 1980s, Canadian politicians were too afraid of the short-term impact of job losses in the fishing industry to reduce the quota of cod that fishers were permitted to catch. Eventually, however, this short-term thinking led to long-term catastrophe, as Atlantic Canada’s once-thriving fishing industry collapsed, a victim of overfishing and a case study in poor fisheries management.
In this section, we examine how important our relationships with others are by looking into how we work with each other. In particular, we can say that when individuals or groups interact they may take either cooperative or competitive positions (De Dreu, 2010; Komorita & Parks, 1994). When we cooperate, the parties involved act in ways that they perceive will benefit both themselves and others. Cooperation is behavior that occurs when we trust the people or groups with whom we are interacting and are willing to communicate and share with the others, expecting to profit ourselves through the increased benefits that can be provided through joint behavior. On the other hand, when we engage in competition we attempt to gain as many of the limited rewards as possible for ourselves, and at the same time we may work to reduce the likelihood of success for the other parties. Although competition is not always harmful, in some cases one or more of the parties may feel that their self-interest has not been adequately met and may attribute the cause of this outcome to another party (Miller, 2001). In these cases of perceived inequity or unfairness, competition may lead to conflict, in which the parties involved engage in violence and hostility (De Dreu, 2010).
Although competition is normal and will always be a part of human existence, cooperation and sharing are too. Although they may generally look out for their own interests, individuals do realize that there are both costs and benefits to always making selfish choices (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978). Although we might prefer to use as much gasoline as we want, or to buy a new music album rather than contribute to the local food bank, at the same time we realize that doing so may have negative consequences for the group as a whole. People have simultaneous goals of cooperating and competing, and the individual must coordinate these goals in making a choice (De Dreu, 2010; Schelling, 1960/1980).
If human beings are well equipped to cooperate with each other, and if morality, social fairness, and other human features favor cooperation, why are so many social relationships still competitive? If you guessed that the competition comes not so much from the people as it does from the nature of the social situation, then you would be correct. In short, competition is often caused by the social dilemma (defined below) itself—the dilemma creates patterns whereby even when we want to be good, the situation nevertheless rewards us for being selfish. Ross and Ward (1995) found that participants played a game more competitively when it was described as a “Wall Street broker game” than when the same game was called a “community game.” And other studies have found that subliminal priming of money or business materials (e.g., boardroom tables and business suits) increases competition (Kay, Wheeler, Bargh, & Ross, 2004; Vohs, Meed, & Goode, 2006).
Social dilemmas occur when the members of a group, culture, or society are in potential conflict over the creation and use of shared public goods. Public goods are benefits that are shared by a community at large and that everyone in the group has access to, regardless of whether or not they have personally contributed to the creation of the goods (Abele, Stasser, & Chartier, 2010). In many cases, the public good involves the responsible use of a resource that if used wisely by the group as a whole will remain intact but if overused will be destroyed. Examples include the cod off the coast of Newfoundland, water in local reservoirs, public beaches, and clean air.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
One of the most commonly studied social dilemmas a laboratory simulation called the prisoner’s dilemma game (Poundstone, 1992). This game is a laboratory simulation that models a social dilemma in which the goals of the individual compete with the goals of another individual (or sometimes with a group of other individuals). Like all social dilemmas, the prisoner’s dilemma makes use of the assumptions of social learning approaches to behavior that assume that individuals will try to maximize their own outcomes in their interactions with others.
In the prisoner’s dilemma, the participants are shown a payoff matrix in which numbers are used to express the potential outcomes for the each of the players in the game, given the decisions made by each player. The payoffs are chosen beforehand by the experimenter to create a situation that models some real-world outcome. Furthermore, in the prisoner’s dilemma, the payoffs are normally arranged as they would be in a typical social dilemma, such that each individual is better off acting in their immediate self-interest, and yet if all individuals act according to their self-interest, then everyone will be worse off.
In its original form, the prisoner’s dilemma involves a situation in which two prisoners (we’ll call them Frank and Malik) have been accused of committing a crime. The police have determined that the two worked together on the crime, but they have only been able to gather enough evidence to convict each of them of a more minor offense. In an attempt to gain more evidence and thus to be able to convict the prisoners of the larger crime, each prisoner is interrogated individually, with the hope that he will confess to having been involved in the more major crime in return for a promise of a reduced sentence if he confesses first. Each prisoner can make either the cooperative choice (which is to not confess) or the competitive choice (which is to confess).
The incentives for either confessing or not confessing are expressed in a payoff matrix such as the one shown in Figure 10.11. The top of the matrix represents the two choices that Malik might make (either to confess that he did the crime or to not confess), and the side of the matrix represents the two choices that Frank might make (also to either confess or not confess). The payoffs that each prisoner receives, given the choices of each of the two prisoners, are shown in each of the four squares.
In the prisoner’s dilemma, two suspected criminals are interrogated separately. The payoff matrix indicates the outcomes for each prisoner, measured as the number of years each is sentenced to prison, as a result of each combination of cooperative (don’t confess) and competitive (confess) decisions. Outcomes for Malik are in the darker color, and outcomes for Frank are in lighter color.
If both prisoners take the cooperative choice by not confessing (the situation represented in the upper left square of the matrix), there will be a trial, the limited available information will be used to convict each prisoner, and each will be sentenced to a relatively short prison term of three years. However, if either of the prisoners confesses, turning “state’s evidence” against the other prisoner, then there will be enough information to convict the other prisoner of the larger crime, and that prisoner will receive a sentence of 30 years, whereas the prisoner who confesses will get off free. These outcomes are represented in the lower left and upper right squares of the matrix. Finally, it is possible that both players confess at the same time. In this case, there is no need for a trial, and in return, the prosecutors offer a somewhat reduced sentence (of 10 years) to each of the prisoners.
Characteristics of the Prisoner’s Dilemma
The prisoner’s dilemma has two interesting characteristics that make it a useful model of a social dilemma. For one, the prisoner’s dilemma is arranged so that a positive outcome for one player does not necessarily mean a negative outcome for the other player (i.e., the prisoner’s dilemma is not a fixed-sum situation but an integrative one). If you consider again the matrix in Figure 10.11, you can see that if one player takes the cooperative choice (to not confess) and the other takes the competitive choice (to confess), then the prisoner who cooperates loses, whereas the other prisoner wins. However, if both prisoners make the cooperative choice, each remaining quiet, then neither gains more than the other, and both prisoners receive a relatively light sentence. In this sense, both players can win at the same time.
Second, the prisoner’s dilemma matrix is arranged such that each individual player is motivated to take the competitive choice because this choice leads to a higher payoff regardless of what the other player does. Imagine for a moment that you are Malik, and you are trying to decide whether to cooperate (don’t confess) or to compete (confess). And imagine that you are not really sure what Frank is going to do. Remember that the goal of the individual is to maximize rewards. The values in the matrix make it clear that if you think that Frank is going to confess, you should confess yourself (to get 10 rather than 30 years in prison). And it is also clear that if you think Frank is not going to confess, you should still confess (to get no years rather than three years in prison). So the matrix is arranged so that the “best” alternative for each player, at least in the sense of pure self-interest, is to make the competitive choice, even though in the end both players would prefer the combination in which both players cooperate to the one in which they both compete.
Although initially specified in terms of the two prisoners, similar payoff matrices can be used to predict behavior in many different types of dilemmas involving two or more parties and including choices between helping and not helping, working and loafing, and paying and not paying debts (Weber & Messick, 2004). For instance, we can use the prisoner’s dilemma to help us understand a contributions dilemma, such as why two roommates might not want to contribute to the housework. Each of them would be better off if they relied on the other to clean the house. Yet if neither of them makes an effort to clean the house (the cooperative choice), the house becomes a mess and they will both be worse off.
The Important Role of Communication
When communication between the parties involved in a conflict is nonexistent, or when it is hostile or negative in tone, disagreements frequently result in escalation of negative feelings and lead to conflict. In other cases, when communication is more open and positive, the parties in potential conflict are more likely to be able to deal with each other effectively, with a result that produces compromise and cooperation (Balliet, 2010).
Communication has a number of benefits, each of which improves the likelihood of cooperation. For one, communication allows individuals to tell others how they are planning to behave and what they are currently contributing to the group effort, which helps the group learn about the motives and behaviors of the others and helps the group develop norms for cooperation. Communication has a positive effect because it increases the expectation that the others will act cooperatively and also reduces the potential of being a “sucker” to the free riding of others. Thus communication allows the parties to develop a sense of trust (Messick & Brewer, 1983).
Once cooperative norms are in place, they can improve the possibilities for long-term cooperation because they produce a public commitment on the part of the parties to cooperate as well as an internalized obligation to honor those commitments (Kerr, Garst, Lewandowski, & Harris, 1997). In fact, Norbert Kerr and his colleagues (Kerr, Ganst, Lewandowski, & Harris, 1997; Kerr & Kaufman-Gilliland, 1994) have found that group discussion commits group members to act cooperatively to such an extent that it is not always necessary to monitor their behavior; once the group members have shared their intentions to cooperate, they will continue to do so because of a private, internalized commitment to it.
Communication can also allow the people working together to plan what they should do and therefore can help them better coordinate their efforts. For instance, in certain laboratory games based on other kinds of cooperation, discussion allows the group to monitor their withdrawals from the public good so that the pool is not depleted (Liebrand, 1984). And if only a certain number of individuals need to contribute in a contributions dilemma in order for the public good to be maintained, communication may allow the group members to set up a system that ensures that this many, but not more, contribute in any given session.
Finally, communication may also help people realize the advantages, over the long term, of cooperating. If, as a result of communication, the individuals learn that the others are actually behaving cooperatively (something that might not have been apparent given prior misperceptions that make us overestimate the extent to which others are competing), this might increase the motivation to cooperate oneself. Alternatively, learning that others are behaving competitively and thus threatening the resources may help make it clear to all the parties that increased cooperation is essential (Jorgenson & Papciak, 1981).
Perhaps the most important benefit of communication is the potential of learning that the goals of the parties involved in the conflict are not always incompatible (Thompson & Hrebec, 1996; Thompson, 1991). A major barrier to increasing cooperation is that individuals expect both that situations are arranged such that they are fixed-sum and that others will act competitively to attempt to gain a greater share of the outcomes. Neither of these assumptions is necessarily true, however, and thus one potential benefit of communication is that the parties come to see the situation more accurately.
One example of a situation in which communication was successful is the meeting held at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978 between the delegates of Egypt and Israel. Both sides sat down together with then–U.S. President Carter to attempt to reach an accord over the fate of the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had occupied for many years. Initially, neither side would budge, and attempts to divide the land in half were opposed by both sides. It appeared that there was a fixed-sum situation in which land was the important factor, and neither wanted to give it up. Over the course of discussion, communication prevailed. It became clear that what Egypt really wanted out of the deal was sovereignty over lands that were perceived as historically part of Egypt. On the other hand, what Israel valued the most was security. The outcome of the discussion was that Israel eventually agreed to return the land to Egypt in exchange for a demilitarized zone and the establishment of new Israeli air bases. Despite the initial perceptions, the situation turned out to be integrative rather than fixed-sum, and both sides were able to get what they wanted.
The Tit-for-Tat Strategy
In social dilemma games that are run over a number of trials, various strategies can be used by the parties involved. But which is the best strategy to use in order to promote cooperation? One simple strategy that has been found to be effective in such situations is known as tit-for-tat. The tit-for-tat strategy involves initially making a cooperative choice and then simply matching the previous move of the opponent (whether cooperation or competition).
Computers have been used to simulate the behavior of individuals who use the tit-for-tat strategy over a series of interactions in comparison with other approaches for determining whether to cooperate or compete on each trial. The tit-for-tat strategy has been found to work better than outright cooperation or other types of strategies in producing cooperation from the parties (Axelrod, 2005; Fischer & Suleiman, 2004; Van Lange & Visser, 1999).
The tit-for-tat strategy seems to be so effective because, first, it is “nice” in the sense that the individual first cooperates and signals a willingness to cooperate. Second, the strategy seems to be successful because, as it is relatively simple and easy to understand, others can clearly see how the choices are being determined. Furthermore, the approach sends a clear message that competitive choices on the part of the other will not be tolerated and that cooperation will always be reciprocated. It is quick to punish but it is equally quick to forgive. The other party cannot take advantage of a person who is using tit-for-tat on more than one trial because if they try to do so, the result will always be retaliation in the form of a competitive choice on the next trial. Indeed, it has been found that having people play against a partner who uses the tit-for-tat strategy can help them learn to be more cooperative, particularly once they become aware what the strategy is and how it is being used (Sheldon, 1999). The tit-for-tat strategy seems particularly effective because it balances self-concerned and other-concerned responses in an easy-to-understand way.
Despite the fact that it generally works better than most other strategies, tit-for-tat is not perfect. One problem is that because people are more likely to behave competitively than cooperatively, tit-for-tat is more likely to lead opponents to match noncooperative responses than to follow cooperation with cooperation, and thus tit-for-tat may in some cases produce a spiral of conflict (Kelley & Stahelski, 1970). This is particularly likely if the opposing party never makes a cooperative choice, and thus the party using tit-for-tat never gets a chance to play cooperatively after the first round. Variations of the tit-for-tat strategy in which the individual acts more cooperatively than demanded by the strategy (e.g., by giving some extra cooperative trials in the beginning or being extra cooperative on other trials) have been found to be helpful in promoting cooperation in opponents, although they do allow the opponent to exploit the side that is using tit-for-tat.
Formal Solutions to Conflict: Negotiation, Mediation, and Arbitration
In some cases, conflict becomes so extreme that the groups feel that they need to work together to reach a compromise. Several methods are used in these cases, including negotiation, mediation, and arbitration.
Negotiation is the process by which two or more parties formally work together to attempt to resolve a perceived divergence of interest in order to avoid or resolve social conflict (Thompson, Wang, & Gunia, 2010). The parties involved are often social groups, such as businesses or nations, although the groups may rely on one or a few representatives who actually do the negotiating. When negotiating, the parties who are in disagreement develop a set of communication structures in which they discuss their respective positions and attempt to develop a compromise agreement. To reach this agreement, each side makes a series of offers, followed by counteroffers from the other side, each time moving closer to a position that they can each agree on. Negotiation is successful if each of the parties finds that they have more to gain by remaining in the relationship or completing the transaction, even if they cannot get exactly what they want, than they would gain if they left the relationship entirely or continued the existing competitive state.
In some cases, negotiation is a type of fixed-sum process in which each individual wants to get as much as he or she can of the same good or commodity. For instance, in the sale of a property, if the seller wants the highest price possible, and the buyer wants the lowest price possible, the compromise will involve some sacrifice for each, or else it will not occur at all if the two parties cannot find a price on which they can agree. More often, the outcome of the negotiation is dependent upon the ability of the two parties to effectively communicate and to dispel negative misperceptions about the goals of the other party. When communication and trust are obtained in the situation, the parties may find that the situation is not completely fixed-sum but rather more integrative. The seller and buyer may be able to find an acceptable solution that is based on other aspects of the deal, such as the time that the deal is made or other costs and benefits involved. In fact, negotiators that maintain the assumption that the conflict is fixed-sum end up with lower individual and joint gain in comparison with negotiators who change their perceptions to be more integrative.
Negotiation works better when both sides have an open mind and do not commit themselves to positions. It has been argued that negotiation is most beneficial when you take a position and stick to it, no matter what, because if you begin to compromise at all, it will look like weakness or as if you do not really need all that you asked for. However, when negotiators do not allow any compromise, the negotiations are likely to break off without a solution.
Negotiation is often accompanied by conflict, including threats and harassment of the other party or parties. In general, individuals who are firm in their positions will achieve more positive outcomes as a result of negotiation, unless both sides are too firm and no compromise can be reached. However, positive and cooperative communication is an important factor in improving negotiation. Individuals who truthfully represent their needs and goals with the other party will produce better outcomes for both parties, in part because they become more aware of each other’s needs and are better able to empathize with them. Parties that are in negotiation should therefore be encouraged to communicate. Indeed, although negotiations create the potential for conflict and even hostility, those outcomes are not inevitable. People usually think that situations of potential conflict are fixed-sum outcomes, meaning that a gain for one side necessarily means a loss for the other side or sides (Halevy, Chou, & Murnighan, 2011). But this is not always true. In some cases, the outcomes are instead integrative outcomes, meaning that a solution can be found that benefits all the parties.
In some serious cases of disagreement, the parties involved in the negotiation decide that they must bring in outside help in the form of a “third” party, to help them reach an equitable solution or to prevent further conflict. The third party may be called upon by the parties who are in disagreement, their use may be required by laws, or in some cases a third party may rather spontaneously appear (such as when a friend or coworker steps in to help solve a dispute). The goal of the third party is to help those who are in conflict to reach agreement without embarrassment to either party. In general, third-party intervention works better if it is implemented before the conflict is too great. If the level of conflict is already high, the attempts to help may increase hostility, and the disputants may not consent to third-party intervention.
- The behavior of individuals in conflict situations is frequently studied using laboratory games such as the prisoner’s dilemma game.
- Taken together, these games suggest that the most beneficial approach in social dilemmas is to maintain a balance between self-concern and other-concern.
- Communication has a number of benefits, each of which improves the likelihood of cooperation.
- Negotiation, mediation, and arbitration can be used to help settle disputes.
Exercises and Critical Thinking
- Consider a time when you were in a type of social dilemma, perhaps with friends or family. How did your self-concern and other-concern lead you to resolve the dilemma?
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