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Does Social Cooperation Affect Macroeconomic Performance? Research Project

Putting in Effort for the Benefit of All: The Role of Reward and Effort Requirements

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Principal Investigator: Magda Osman

Magda Osman is a reader in Experimental Psychology at Queen Mary University of London. Her research takes a critical eye to well accepted views and challenge the status quo. As a result, she engages in a range of areas that include decision-making, learning, problem-solving, biases, risk and uncertainty, agency and control, and the unconscious.  

Among others, her work provides insights that methods, such as nudges, designed to improve our decision-making are not reliable, are ethically problematic, and that the public have concerns about them, especially if the nudges are designed by government bodies compared to scientists.

Project Summary

It is probably fair to assume that behaving in ways that are societally responsible and developing practices that are compliant with regulations is hugely effortful. (Dis)Incentives (e.g. bonuses, subsidies, penalties, taxes) are often the go to ways of motivating a variety of sectors to act for the good of others. The question of this project is: if there is a better way of achieving this, what is it?

Social psychology and behavioural economics propose that financial inducements are not necessary to motivate pro-social behaviours as social forces can be as effective, if not more. We used this work as a point of departure in our present study to investigate a neglected research question: can reputation building, through a process of social comparisons, be used to enhance cooperative effort exertion in a group task? In our project we showed that the effect of social comparison information on behaviour is different at different levels of analysis (psychophysical, behavioural, linguistic). When putting in effort, people tend to go the extra mile for themselves, but not others (psychophysical data). This is regardless of the social comparison information that is available. Where it comes to choosing how much to contribute to a common good (behavioural data), then social forces do take effect, and people prefer to act more pro-socially when they know that their intent is under public scrutiny. Finally, social cohesion and alignment are needed for any social forces to take effect (linguistic data).

What can we take from this evidence? Reputation building through public social signalling of intended actions is likely to promote socially responsible behaviours and promote regulatory compliance in social policy sectors, but the effort needed to achieve the stated intentions is not going to exceed what is necessary. So, we can promote cooperation without relying on financial inducements alone, but what occurs is putting in just enough effort to benefit all. Moving forward from this project, identifying interventions that would be effective at encouraging people to go beyond what is necessary will be needed.


Working Paper I:

Do As I Say, Not As I Do - The Role of Social Comparisons in Cooperative Effort Exertion

Magda Osman, Agata Ludwiczak and Zoe Adams | January 11, 2021



Working Paper II:

Verbal Interaction in a Social Dilemma Experiment Exertion

Agata Ludwiczak, Zoe Adams, Magda Osman, and Devyani Sharma | January 11, 2021

Working Paper III:

Learning from Behavioural Changes That Fail

Magda Osman, Scott McLachlan, Norman Fenton, Martin Neil, Ragnar Löfstedt, Björn Meder | January 11, 2021

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