Nudging cooperation in a crowd experiment
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We examine the hypothesis that driven by a competition heuristic, people don't even reflect or consider whether a cooperation strategy may be better. As a paradigmatic example of this behavior we propose the zero-sum game fallacy, according to which people believe that resources are fixed even when they are not. We demonstrate that people only cooperate if the competitive heuristic is explicitly overridden in an experiment in which participants play two rounds of a game in which competition is suboptimal. The observed spontaneous behavior for most players was to compete. Then participants were explicitly reminded that the competing strategy may not be optimal. This minor intervention boosted cooperation, implying that competition does not result from lack of trust or willingness to cooperate but instead from the inability to inhibit the competition bias. This activity was performed in a controlled laboratory setting and also as a crowd experiment. Understanding the psychological underpinnings of these behaviors may help us improve cooperation and thus may have vast practical consequences to our society.