Humans Display Context-Dependent Behavior In Society, Research Reveals

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Humans Display Context-Dependent Behavior in Society

Psychology News – Researchers show how humans display context-dependent behavior while interacting in different levels of society. They are enthusiastic that the findings can help develop newer tools that encourage prosocial behavior.

A new study shows how a person changes his/her social behavior according to his/her social context.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied small and large groups of people to understand different social behaviors in different contexts and how context-dependent behavior promotes the spread of cooperative behavior across social levels. The findings are published, in parts, in Nature Human Behaviour, Science Advances, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the experiment, they used a model related to Game theory, which is a mathematical model based on the strategic interaction amongst rational agents or “actors”. They divided the multilayered society or the different levels of a person’s social interaction into various “domains” or social contexts. Each of these domains has its own internal structures. The actors in the model could choose various strategies based on different social contexts to interact in different domains. For instance, they can be selfish in one domain but co-operative in another domain.

The researchers also analyzed how actors could observe and copy other players’ strategies of interaction, like co-operation or selfishness, from one layer to the other layers. They considered factors conditioning behavior, such as the structure of social interaction networks, the capacity for empathy, and the presence of memory and reputation to understand how cooperation flourishes across different social levels.

The results shed light on context-dependent behavior, showing how a person changes his/her strategies of social interaction depending on the social context. It is also seen that cooperative behavior is learnt faster than selfish or negative behavior.

The study notes the ‘uni-directional’ nature of real-world cooperation. Even if cooperation does not spread across one particular domain, it increases as the number of social domains increase. Even if their gestures are not reciprocated in one domain, the actors display a tendency to cooperate in the other domains. In fact, it is only cooperation that enjoys the “spillover” between the domains.

One of the lead researchers, Joshua Plotkin, elaborates: “This shows that the structure of interactions in different aspects of our social lives can galvanize each other—for the benefit of mutual cooperation.” The researchers are enthusiastic that studies like this can help develop tools that foster positive, united, and prosocial behavior.

To Know More You May Relate To

Su, Q., McAvoy, A., & Plotkin, J. B. (2022). Evolution of cooperation with contextualized behavior. Science advances, 8(6), eabm6066.

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