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Trust in leaders and sense of belonging increases cooperation

Intergroup conflicts, mismatched values and cognitive disconnection reduce resource sharing

25 July 2013

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

People are more likely to act cooperatively when they have a strong sense of belonging to a collective.

That’s according to a research report which examines more than 25 years' worth of studies on the use and support of public goods.

It notes that people are more willing to help out in urgent situations when their leaders act in transparent and trustworthy ways.

It adds that cooperation is likely to be stronger in smaller groups, particularly when individual contributions are easily identifiable. By contrast, cooperation decreases in large groups because people feel less influential, less identifiable and less responsible for the group's welfare.

"Sincere and concerted attempts to collect public input and a general 'let's work together' approach will do much to enhance group identity," say Craig Parks et al in their paper ‘Cooperation, Trust, and Antagonism: How Public Goods Are Promoted’, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

"Toleration of a certain amount of deviation from policy, at least in the early stages of implementation, will show that policy makers are forgiving.

“A policy that gives citizens more than they might have expected a more well-developed public good and broader access to it will convey an image of generosity."

Intergroup conflicts are cited as a key factor in the incongruous use of resources. In order to advance their own group's interests, people will often try to prevent those in opposing groups from benefiting from shared goods or resources, the paper notes.

Mismatched ideologies and values can also affect the use of resources, resulting in individuals withholding support for a policy for the common good because they consider it to be useless or objectionable.

Cognitive disconnection also has a role to play; threats to common resources can be so vast or abstract that people struggle to comprehend the consequences, the paper says.

The authors propose some policy steps that could promote better care of shared resources. People tend to act for the benefit of those who are powerless or helpless, so people should be made more aware of the impact of their actions on future generations, they suggest.

The researchers also argue that policymakers, in promoting the optimal use of shared resources, must concentrate on building their community's trust in order to garner cooperation.

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