Examining the impact of interdependence and social risk on intergroup trust and bias

By | August 2, 2017

Project leader:  Dr Fouad Bou Zeineddine

Full title: An experimental study of intergroup behaviour in a minimal group setting: Examining the impact of interdependence and social risk on intergroup trust and bias


Increasing awareness of long-term risks and rewards shared across group boundaries can produce behavior distinct from that characterizing bounded intergroup relations. The social sciences, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science, all argue that increased salience of shared long-term risks focuses people more on what is needful and sufficient to ensure sustainable survival, rather than on short-term individual and ingroup status and competitive profit, and favors cooperative ideologies over others. One key factor in public goods/commons dynamics across all these disciplines is trust. Trust in others is sensitive to context-dependent material and social risks to survival and certainty (such as losing out on cooperation rewards, betrayal, inequality). Working with the Virtual Interaction Application (VIAPPL) lab, I am using game experiments and computational models to operationalize and integrate commons into minimal intergroup experimental settings, and address the impact of structurally induced vulnerability on trust and social and economic behavior and ideology. The underlying theoretical thesis is that both structural and relational features of an environment modify utilitarian inclinations that play a part in ideological and behavioral definition and motivation at the individual level, and that specifying those structural and relational features will enable us to more accurately and precisely predict behavior balancing continual, ecologically responsive (re)prioritization of competing utilities (i.e. mixed motives). Thus, the experiment (study 1, N=40 games, n=240 participants) does not only manipulate the risk of non-cooperation loss (probability of incurring losses from exclusion or self-exclusion from cooperative arrangements) by specifying difficult “survival” conditions versus “surplus” material starting conditions (participants must maintain a minimum wealth balance to survive in the former condition, whereas they do not in the latter). We also manipulate the relational positioning of this material vulnerability, either at the level of shared (commons) risk, individual (asymmetric) risk, or both. We then measure the effects of these manipulations on social and economic behavior (e.g. resource exchange, communication frequency and bias, etc) in the game, as well as their effects on trust (generalized, systemic, intergroup, and intragroup) and ideology (e.g. preferred structure of social organization, preferred strategies of social action). Supporting this approach, we use computational models to simulate the experimental design and estimate a variety of the relevant relational and structural parameters (e.g. individual selfishness, ingroup favoritism, commons favoritism, return on investment in commons, minimum balance thresholds) on the basis of a probabilistic algorithm that implements giving and taking to/from any given agent or the commons in the simulated game arena. Those probabilities are specified according to individual, group, and shared needs, risks, interactive histories, and current status, and these factors are balanced against each other. If this model’s agents’ behaviors replicate the experimental data at correspondent levels of the experimentally manipulated and computationally simulated variables, this will support our theoretical propositions and the probabilistic mixed-motive pragmatic model of behavior in such settings (study 2a, 12,960 conditions, N=648,000, n=3888000). Moreover, we use these computational models in a third study to identify the optimal way in which agents need to interact in order to maximize survival, equality, and growth simultaneously at individual, group, and shared levels, and contrast this optimal solution in the simulated environment with the actual outcomes achieved by participants in the experiment, enabling us to identify potentially counterproductive behaviors and biases when two groups sharing a common resource interact (study 2b, 12,960 conditions, N=648,000, n=3888000). Finally, these three studies, taken as a whole, form part of a larger research program addressing social mutualism (the psychology of commons-oriented relational motives, ideologies, and behavior) and its role in individual and collective coping and well-being (Bou Zeineddine, Pratto, & Leach, 2015). These studies with VIAPPL lab complete the first phase of this research program, and provide enough converging evidence to merit the series of further experiments and simulations that will extend this work through VIAPPL, as well as the major publications under preparation on the topic of social mutualism (Bou Zeineddine, Pratto, Leach, Durrheim, Igwe, & Tooke, under preparation), and more broadly, on the role of commons in social, economic, and political psychology.


Bou Zeineddine, F., Pratto, F., Leach, C.W. (2015). Social mutualism as the psychology of alter-cultural praxis. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation)


Bou Zeineddine, Pratto, Leach, Durrheim, Igwe, & Tooke (submission August, 2017). Social mutualism: The anthropological, social, economic, and political psychology of the commons. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.