Skip to main content

Releasing Prisoners Of The Paradigm: Understanding How Cooperation Varies Across Contexts In The Lab And Field

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - COOPERATION (Releasing Prisoners Of The Paradigm: Understanding How Cooperation Varies Across Contexts In The Lab And Field)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2020-07-31

This project has two objectives to further understand when and how people cooperate. Cooperation can be generally defined as people engaging in behaviors that benefit others (even sometimes at a cost to oneself). First, I am developing a databank that contains the results from the entire history of research on human cooperation – over 2,500 studies. Then I will use this databank to further address some specific research questions understanding when and how people choose to cooperate, such as how cooperation varies across societies. Second, I am developing and testing a new theory about how people think about their interdependence with others and the important role this has in understanding human cooperation.

Human cooperation is a pillar of society. Government institutions, public goods (e.g. parks, schools, charities), organizations, and sustainable resource consumption, all depend on people coming together and making contributions to provide and maintain these valuable aspects of society. For decades, scientists have been testing theory about human cooperation using a standardized experimental method. I am aggregating this information in a single databank that can be used to better compare across studies and identify patterns in the data that can be useful in understanding human cooperation. This knowledge can be used to promote cooperation. Further, my team developed a measure about how people think about their interdependence with others and found that this has important implications for understanding cooperation. This can lead to innovative approaches in communicating how people depend on each other to promote public goods, which can ultimately lead to higher rates of cooperation.

The overall objectives are to build the databank and develop the theory about interdependence and cooperation. These objectives will advance our scientific understanding of cooperation and the findings may be used to further promote cooperation.
I built a team of about 27 people consisting of both social and computer scientists that worked to develop and build the Cooperation Databank (CoDa) – a databank that contains 2,641 studies on human cooperation (1958-2017). Experts annotated these studies for 312 variables, including the quantitative results (effect sizes). We designed an ontology that defines and relates concepts in cooperation research and that can represent the relationships between individual study results. We have created a research platform that, based on the dataset, enables users to retrieve studies that test the relation of variables with cooperation, visualize these study results, and perform meta-analyses. (see Spardaro et al. 2020)

see the cooperation databank here: (

We have also used the data from the databank to conduct meta-analyses. Projects 1.1 and 1.2 were achieved in a single paper that analyzed the relation between about 50 different personality traits and cooperation and then we studied whether the degree of conflicting interests and repeated interactions moderated the relation between personality variables and cooperation. This paper was published in the top journal in multi-disciplinary psychology, Psychological Bulletin (Theilmann, Spadaro, & Balliet, 2020). We have also, so far, published another meta-analysis on the relation between social value orientation, expectations and coopeation (Pletzer et al., 2018).

We are currently completing other meta-analyses that I have outlined in the proposal, including about how cooperation varies across societies (Spadaro et al., in prep), structural solutions to social dilemmas (Jin et al., in prep), and whether cooperation changed over time in the U.S. (Luan et al., in prep.). These papers will be completed and submitted for publication within the next 6 months.

For project 2, I have developed a theory about how people infer their interdependence with others in social situations (Balliet, Tybur, & Van Lange, 2017). This provided the basis for a line of research on this topic, and the first steps we took were to develop a measurement tool to assess how people understand their interdependence with others in social situations (Gerpott, Balliet, et al., 2018; Project 2.1). Next, we used the measurement, in combination with experience sampling to better understand the kinds of interdependent situations people experience in daily life (Columbus, Molho, Righetti, & Balliet, 2020; Project 2.3).

We have conducted field studies using both experience sampling methods and diary methods to better understand cooperation and interdependence in daily life (project 2.3). We have specifically studied key forms of behaviors people use to regulate cooperative social exchange in daily life, including gossip and the punishment of norm violators – and how these are affected by the interdependence people experience with others.

We conducted a series of studies comparing how people think about interdependence and cooperation, comparing a multi-dimensional model to a template model (Molho & Balliet, in prep.; project 2.2). these data have yet to be written up for publication.

We have also conducted a line of research on the cues people use to infer interdependence (Columbus & Balliet, in prep; project 2.4). We have conducted an empirical study using a negotiation paradigm, where we manipulated power and conflicting interests and study the cues people use to infer whether during the negotiation they have high/low power and conflict, and the implications that has for their negotiation strategies. This project is currently being written up for publication.

My team has hosted a one-day workshop with Scientific Advisors of the Cooperation Databank, and the 17th International Conference on Social Dilemmas.
The project has now ended.

In the last preiod of the grant, we have completed the Cooperation Databank and made this public and open access. we have also developed a corresponding website ( to promote the databank. This also invloves instructional tutorials about how to use the databank.
cooperation databank (coda) logo