Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Changes in Sympathetic Tone during Cooperative Game Play

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Changes in Sympathetic Tone during Cooperative Game Play

Article excerpt

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a marker of psychological stress that affects behavioral performance and this marker has been widely used in social science research (Dulleck, Schaffner, & Torgler, 2014). Increased HRV is associated with an increased ability to make group decisions related to fairness and reciprocity (Sütterlin, Herbert, Schmitt, Kübler, & Vögele, 2011b). However, is not yet well understood how increased stress (sympathetic tone) and decreased high frequency (HF) power spectrum HRV affect human cooperation. It has been shown that counterproductive workplace behaviors may be directly related to stress and negative affect (Penney & Spector, 2005). When an individual is tasked with making decisions within a group, there are many stressful variables that can lead to poor choices and, ultimately, conflict. Classic paradigms like the prisoner's dilemma or the dictator game are often used to investigate social orientation and altruism (Batson & Moran, 1999; Batson & Powell, 2003). Although these models are common, behaviors observed over the course of the games often conflict with the more self-centered behavior predicted by standard game theory (Brosig, 2002). Cooperation relies, rather, on complex psychological processes and events, including shared intentions and mutually coordinated joint action, that have not been taken into consideration in these models (Engemann, Bzdok, Eickhoff, Vogeley, & Schilbach, 2012). Furthermore, cooperative behavior is not necessarily equivalent across cultures and people in some cultures may be more effective at cooperating owing to social obligations that are part of that culture (Neuliep, 2012). Culture has also been shown to play a role in conflict resolution, whereby people in collectivistic, as opposed to individualistic, cultures tend to cooperate to reach resolution more effectively (Boros, Meslec, Curseu, & Emons, 2010).

Therefore, we reasoned that it would be intriguing to examine the relationship between perceived stress and the effectiveness and efficiency of cooperation among people whose sociocultural orientations were different as they were playing a dynamic, cooperative game. For this purpose, we recruited two groups, one of which was composed of racially heterogeneous Americans and the other homogeneous Japanese. This choice was based on the well-described differences of these two groups in individualistic preferences (Hofstede, 1980) as well on as their social differences in cooperation (Yamagishi, 1988). In the Japanese culture, there is a social requirement for people to put the needs of the group above those of the individual, whereas in the American culture, the focus on independence is often viewed in opposition to this society-first requirement (Raeff, 1997).

In order to simulate the substantially equal workload of cooperation across different cultural groups, we used Tetris, which is a 30-year-old interactive video game played by more than 148 million people around the world (Loguidice & Barton, 2012; Wikipedia, n.d.). Although this is usually a game for a single player, its cooperative two-player mode contains two tetrahedrons that have to be navigated down the game screen simultaneously, with each of the players controlling one tetrahedron. Players need to yield to each other in manipulating their tetrahedrons downward, requiring communication and intuitive cooperation between partners. If partners cannot work together or communicate effectively, the tetrahedron pieces that each person controls will bump into each other and cause the equivalent of a traffic jam. If too many noncooperative instances occur in a single round, the ability of the partners to stack tetrahedrons into horizontal lines becomes limited and, thus, their ability to cooperate is reduced. The continuous nature of the game is an ideal setting in which to study ongoing stressful situations and variation in heart rate.

Our goal in this experiment was to utilize the interactive and dynamic environment of Tetris to determine how continuous, real-time cooperation produces specific physiological effects, such as changes in stress associated with sympathetic tone, as determined through decreased HRV. …

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