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Sunday, December 5, 2021

The psychological foundations of reputation-based cooperation

Manrique, H., et al. (2021, June 2).


Humans care about having a positive reputation, which may prompt them to help in scenarios where the return benefits are not obvious. Various game-theoretical models support the hypothesis that concern for reputation may stabilize cooperation beyond kin, pairs or small groups. However, such models are not explicit about the underlying psychological mechanisms that support reputation-based cooperation. These models therefore cannot account for the apparent rarity of reputation-based cooperation in other species. Here we identify the cognitive mechanisms that may support reputation-based cooperation in the absence of language. We argue that a large working memory enhances the ability to delay gratification, to understand others' mental states (which allows for perspective-taking and attribution of intentions), and to create and follow norms, which are key building blocks for increasingly complex reputation-based cooperation. We review the existing evidence for the appearance of these processes during human ontogeny as well as their presence in non-human apes and other vertebrates. Based on this review, we predict that most non-human species are cognitively constrained to show only simple forms of reputation-based cooperation.


We have presented  four basic psychological building blocks that we consider important facilitators for complex reputation-based cooperation: working memory, delay of gratification, theory of mind, and social norms. Working memory allows for parallel processing of diverse information, to  properly  assess  others’ actions and update their  reputation  scores. Delay of gratification is useful for many types of cooperation,  but may  be particularly relevant for reputation-based cooperation where the returns come from a future interaction with an observer rather than an immediate reciprocation by one’s current partner. Theory of mind makes it easier to  properly  assess others’ actions, and  reduces the  risk that spreading  errors will undermine cooperation. Finally, norms support theory of mind by giving individuals a benchmark of what is right or wrong.  The more developed that each of these building blocks is, the more complex the interaction structure can become. We are aware that by picking these four socio-cognitive mechanisms we leave out other processes that might be involved, e.g. long-term memory, yet we think the ones we picked are more critical and better allow for comparison across species.