Implicitly Prosocial: Investigating the Automaticity of Social Preferences
Much past work has demonstrated that notable variation exists in the expression of prosocial behaviors across both individuals (Fehr and Schmidt 2003) and cultures (Henrich et. al. 2005). The existence of these heterogeneous social preferences for cooperation has been shown to explain who will engage in a wide variety of prosocial behaviors, including donating to charity (Van Lange et al. 2007) and contributing more to collective action (Balliet et al. 2009); more generally, these preferences are important determinants of successful cooperation from small groups (Balliet et al. 2009) to national institutions (Bowles 2008; 2016).
Though it is clear that heterogeneity in the tendency to cooperate exists, what remains unknown is where these differences come from. By understanding how and why people develop a “taste for cooperation”, we can also identify interventions that ultimately aim to promote cooperative behavior. In this M-Cube project, we draw upon prior work on “evaluative conditioning” in psychology (Gast, Gawronski, and De Houwer 2016), marketing (Gibson 2008), and social cognition (Olson and Fazio 2006; Hutter and Fiedler 2016) to consider how social preferences might arise via individuals’ formation of implicit positive evaluations of prosocial actions through their exposure to cultural contexts and social interactions that reinforce such automatic associations.
In Study 1, we use the Implicit Association Test (IAT) (Greenwald et. al. 1998) to determine whether automatic associations with pro-social behaviors are detectable within individuals, and if so, whether these associations correlate with both 1) existing, explicit measures of prosociality and 2) observed cooperative behaviors. In Study 2, we will consider how prior research on evaluative conditioning might be used to develop interventions that use propositional and associative learning (Gawronski and Bodenhausen 2006) to promote prosocial behavior.