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WP4: Synthesis

WP4 specifies and extends the SCOOP approach, which both feeds and draws on the solutions from WP1– 3. It also integrates the resulting insights with basic research and theory synthesis and formation.

Sustainability Threat. Changes in external conditions can severely impact the quality, scope, and sustainability of cooperative relations. Some changes are caused by disasters in the broader technological (e.g. the Fukushima meltdown), natural (e.g. earthquake), political (e.g. 9/11), or economic (e.g. financial crises) environment. Other exogenous “shocks” may be situated in the more immediate institutional environment of the involved parties and be smaller in scope (e.g. changes in rules, authority lines, or the composition of one’s team).

State of the Art. Two largely disconnected strands of studies tackle the impact of external shocks on cooperation at the group level. A relational strand points to the inverse relation between community cohesion and vulnerability to disaster, and that organizations respond to negative shocks through both consolidation (network closure) and expansion (outreach to peripheral actors). The repercussions of shocks on formal and informal norms, conventions, and routines are central to research in the institutional strand. Pointing to the brittleness of the normative goal frame, it emphasizes the importance of credible and non-ambiguous (relational) signals for keeping up solidarity norms and mindful routine performance.

Main Proposition. Modeling the impact of external shocks on cooperation requires insights into how institutions and networks co-evolve, both within and between the level of individuals and the level of groups.

Main outcome. Multilevel network co-evolution models of sustainable cooperation and their empirical test in families, communities, and organizations.

Sustainability Threat. Shared identities that secure cooperation are typically defined by categorizingothers into ‘ingroup’ and ‘out-group’ members. Such categorizations also determine whether people have positive or negative expectations of others, for instance concerning the likelihood that they can be trusted to reciprocate cooperative efforts. However, the same individual that is considered an in-group member in the work context can be seen as an out-group member in a community context. Thus, when examining cooperation in multiple domains, it becomes clear that social categorization and identification processes can cause negative spillover effects that reduce the possibility of achieving cooperation sustainability across different life domains.

State of the Art. It is generally acknowledged that people can have multiple social identities, which differ in salience depending on social context. At the same time, current insights are based on studies examining one particular identity and level of identification at a time, without considering multiple contexts or time frames. Further, standard methodologies are not well suited to examine the ways in which people can be helped to flexibly combine different identities or change the way they conceive of themselves and others across contexts or over time. Recent innovations in our labs have made it possible to assess continuous changes in these processes by using neurocognitive and psychophysiological measures to monitor identity flexibility over time and across contexts. This offers potential for a theoretical breakthrough.

Main Proposition. Enhancing the flexibility in the way people categorize and stereotype others – which affects the willingness to cooperate with them – can help accommodate multiple categorizations and identities across different life domains.

Main outcome. This research will extend existing theory on social categorization and social identity to incorporate antecedents of identity flexibility and implicit adaptations of category definitions and stereotypes.

Sustainability Threat. The assignment of responsibility is an important feedback mechanism for ensuring the stability of cooperation: when cooperation fails or when it has undesired side effects, agents are held responsible and sanctions are imposed. Questions arise as how to deal with failures of these mechanisms. One important failure is the problem of how to allocate responsibility. This is particularly difficult in so-called many hand problems, i.e., situations in which many members of group or organizations made some small but non-trivial causal contribution to an outcome.

State of the Art. One part of the literature addressed whether a shift from individual responsibility to collective responsibility can help solve many hands problems. It focuses on delineating the conditions under which we can view a group or collective as a moral agent that can be held responsible in the same way as we hold individuals. A second part of the literature retains the individual perspective and aims to delineate the institutional conditions under which we can always hold at least some individual responsible for an outcome. Projects 9 and 10 focus on the latter perspective.

Main Proposition. A contribution to the solution of many hands problems can be made if we able to assign degrees of responsibility to individuals and possibly also to groups of individuals. We then acknowledge that different individuals can make different contributions to an outcome, that they all share some responsibility for it, but that the degree in which they are responsible may differ.

Main outcome A theory of degrees of responsibility and an exposition of the institutional features that are conducive to the assignment of degrees of responsibility.