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Does it pay to be nice?

20 March 2018

It pays to be smart, rather than nice, according to new research published today in the prestigious Journal of Political Economy.

Professor Eugenio Proto, from the Department of Economics at the University of Bristol, said: “We wanted to explore what factors make us effective social animals. In other words, what enables us to behave optimally in situations when cooperation is potentially beneficial not only to us, but to our neighbours, people in the same country or who share the same planet.”

Researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Minnesota and Heidelberg devised a series of games to find out which factors lead to cooperative behaviour when people interact in social and workplace situations.

The research involved four different games which were representative of different and very specific strategic situations. Interactions were repeated, giving time and opportunity for each participant to observe and to reflect on the past behaviour of the other.

Where the strategy game involved a trade-off between current and future gains, those with a higher IQ won more money per round.

Their findings showed that people with a higher IQ displayed ‘significantly higher’ levels of cooperation, which in turn led to them earning more money as part of the game. Based on their findings, a society is cohesive (and therefore more successful) if people are smart enough to be consistent in their strategies, and to foresee the social consequences of their actions, including the consequences for others.

Further information

Read the full press release, with more details on the project.

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