Project leader: Kim Titlestad

Full title: Social identity emergence and sustainable cooperation

What features of the social world facilitate sustainable cooperation? One avenue of research is the role of social identification which has shown to be associated with group cohesion, a sense of belonging and collective action on one hand, but also with outgroup discrimination, stereotyping and competition on the other hand. In addition, there are multiple pathways to identification with a group (Postmes, Haslam & Swaab, 2005) – a top-down route which relies on identification with broad social categories (e.g. race, gender), as well as a bottom-up route which is more interactive, involving closer interpersonal relations. Most social identities are formed through a combination of these two routes. There is not much research into how different forms of identification are associated with cooperation and competition. The primary objective of this project is to identify the social identity mechanisms which optimize cooperation and contribute to its development over time. Therefore, we aim to create an evidence-based model of sustainable cooperation in intergroup networks – that is, networks which are emergent, dynamic and involve multiple groups and pathways. To date, we have conducted, and partially analysed, data from 40 networks of individuals playing a cooperation game in groups and have found that social identity can be high in both types of social identity paths and high social identity is associated with cooperation. We have also seen how overall, cooperation is slightly higher in the bottom-up identity type and furthermore, that different groups formed through the same path can also have very different cooperative trends; which suggests unique group processes occurring over and above the identity path. We are continuing to explore these findings. We are also currently in the process of collecting data for a second study which aims to extend and replicate the previous findings and to determine whether cooperation is sustainable even when an end point to the interaction is defined. Can cooperation be sustained right up until a foreseeable end, even if the incentive to do so is less than when one cannot anticipate the end of an interaction? Finally, we are planning a third study later this year in which we will study between-group cooperation and competition in cooperation dilemmas. This is complementary to our previous work where much of focus has been on within-group competition and cooperation.


Postmes, T., Haslam, S. A., & Swaab, R. I. (2005). Social influence in small groups: An interactive model of social identity formation. European Review of Social Psychology, 16(1), 1–42.