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DFG Research Unit FOR 2150 | Relativity in Social Cognition

The Influence of Social Comparisons on Cooperation and Fairness

Bettina RockenbachJarid ZimmermannRobert Böhm

Understanding the determinants of human cooperation is a central question in the social sciences. In recent years, a considerable literature has developed and identified conditional cooperation, i.e., the willingness to cooperate if others (are expected to) do so as well as a fundamental driving force. This concept, rooted in social psychology (Kelley & Stahelski, 1970), spirited many economic theories of social comparisons (see Fehr & Schmidt, 2006, for an overview). But whom do people compare to? Up to now the economic literature has primarily focused on comparisons to direct interaction partners. However, most of our real world interactions are embedded in a wider social context. Recently, evidence has been accumulating that we should indeed broaden our focus beyond the boundaries of the direct interaction partners. Böhm and Rockenbach (2013) show that the mere comparison of cooperation rates to a structurally independent group promotes (intragroup) cooperation. But, if comparisons are not restricted to interaction partners, the selection of comparison standards becomes an information search and selection problem. Our research integrates psychological research on social comparisons and economic research on cooperation and fairness to enlarge the perspective of comparison processes for human decision making in economic situations, and ultimately aims at providing the basis for a refinement and advancement of current theories in the domain of social comparisons and economic decision making.

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Prof. Dr. Bettina Rokenbach
PI | Cooperation and Fairness

Universität zu Köln

Staatswissenschaftliches Seminar - Experimentelle Wirtschafts- und Verhaltensforschung
Universitätsstr. 22a
50937 Köln | GERMANY

Telephone +49-221-470-8664
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E-mail bettina.rockenbach(at)