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Social psychologists study cooperation

 

Narrator:       This is Science Today. What makes people cooperate with others ... and is that part of human nature? These are some of the questions that social psychologist Robb Willer of the University of California, Berkeley, is exploring.

Willer:           If we continue to portray individuals as purely selfish, then we'll create more selfishness than is necessary. But also, I think we want to understand why it is that we do behave in a compassionate and empathetic way, so that we can create contexts and systems that support that.

Narrator:       Willer is looking into these themes in a research setting. One study uses a computer game in which participants are told they have a certain amount of money they can invest in a fund with other people. If they invest in this fund with others, it is increased and divided equally among all the participants. Or, they could keep the money for themselves.

Willer:           When people do overcome the temptation of self-interest and instead help others cooperate with others, they're respected more in their group and then upon receiving that respect, they then help others even more.

Narrator:       For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.