Why People Cooperate: The Role of Social Motivations

Why People Cooperate: The Role of Social Motivations

Why People Cooperate: The Role of Social Motivations

Why People Cooperate: The Role of Social Motivations


Any organization's success depends upon the voluntary cooperation of its members. But what motivates people to cooperate? In Why People Cooperate, Tom Tyler challenges the decades-old notion that individuals within groups are primarily motivated by their self-interest. Instead, he demonstrates that human behaviors are influenced by shared attitudes, values, and identities that reflect social connections rather than material interests.

Tyler examines employee cooperation in work organizations, resident cooperation with legal authorities responsible for social order in neighborhoods, and citizen cooperation with governmental authorities in political communities. He demonstrates that the main factors for achieving cooperation are socially driven, rather than instrumentally based on incentives or sanctions. Because of this, social motivations are critical when authorities attempt to secure voluntary cooperation from group members. Tyler also explains that two related aspects of group practices--the use of fair procedures when exercising authority and the belief by group members that authorities are benevolent and sincere--are crucial to the development of the attitudes, values, and identities that underlie cooperation.

With widespread implications for the management of organizations, community regulation, and governance, Why People Cooperate illustrates the vital role that voluntary cooperation plays in the long-standing viability of groups.


Across the social sciences there has been a widespread recognition that it is important to understand how to motivate cooperation on the part of people within group settings. This is the case irrespective of whether those settings are small groups, organizations, communities, or societies. Studies in management show that work organizations benefit when their members actively work for company success. Law research shows that crime and problems of community disorder are difficult to solve without the active involvement of community residents. Political scientists recognize the importance of public involvement in building both viable communities and strong societies. And those in public policy have identified the value of cooperation in the process of policy making—for example, in stakeholder policy making groups.

Understanding why people are motivated to cooperate when they are within these group settings is a long-term focus of social psychological research. In particular, social psychologists are interested in identifying the motivations that are the antecedents of voluntary cooperation. The goal of this volume is to examine the psychology of cooperation, exploring the motivations that shape the degree to which people cooperate with others. In particular, this analysis focuses on the factors that influence voluntary cooperation. A better understanding of why people cooperate is essential if social psychology is to be helpful in addressing the question of how to motivate cooperation in social settings.

Cooperation in the Real World

The issue of cooperation is central to many of the problems faced by real-world groups, organizations, and societies (De Cremer, Zeelenberg, and Murnighan 2010; Van Lange 2006; VanVugt et al. 2000). As a result, the fields of management, law, and political science all seek to understand how to most effectively design institutions that can best secure cooperation from those within groups. Their efforts to address these issues are mainly informed by the findings of social psychological and economic research on dyads and small groups.

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