Individual Differences in Detecting Cooperative Intent from Emotional Faces at Zero Acquaintance

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University of Delaware
In social situations of conflict, individuals differ in their tendency to behave cooperatively, individualistically, and competitively. The limits on consumption imposed by the general scarcity of resources often leads people to avoid the short run costs imposed by cooperation, opting instead to maximize their own benefit at some cost to the collective’s welfare. If every individual behaves in this selfish manner, however, all are left worse off in the long run than if all had acted cooperatively. It is thus of interest to investigate how cooperative people may identify other cooperative people in order to achieve superior outcomes, and to avoid exploitation. Previous research suggests that cooperative / non-cooperative predispositions are detectable from minimal information, including conversational mannerisms and emotional expressions. We investigate the role Theory of Mind (ToM), the ability to perceive and understand the mental states of others, might play in the ability to recognize such predispositions. We hypothesized that those better at identifying emotional states from a pair of eyes (i.e. Baron-Cohen’s “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” task) would more successfully (accurately) recognize the cooperativeness of an unknown individual. Our results indicate that a relationship exists between ToM and cooperativeness detection. Contrary to our expectations, however, this relationship was found to be negative. Given that our notion of cooperativeness comes from research on social dilemmas, the current work offers an overview of social dilemmas and how social dilemmas are “solved.” We conclude with a discussion surrounding the implications of our results for theoretical and real-world social dilemmas.
Research Subject Categories::MEDICINE::Morphology, cell biology, pathology::Cell biology::Neuroscience, Psychology, Brain Science