Cognitive conflict in social dilemmas: An analysis of response dynamics

  • Kieslich P
  • Hilbig B
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Recently, it has been suggested that people are spontaneously inclined to cooperate in social dilemmas, whereas defec-tion requires effortful deliberation. From this assumption, we derive that defection should entail more cognitive conflict than cooperation. To test this hypothesis, the current study presents a first application of the response dynamics paradigm (i.e., mouse-tracking) to social dilemmas. In a fully incentivized lab experiment, mouse movements were tracked while participants played simple two-person social dilemma games with two options (cooperation and defection). Building on previous research, curvature of mouse movements was taken as an indicator of cognitive conflict. In line with the hy-pothesis of less cognitive conflict in cooperation, response trajectories were more curved (towards the non-chosen option) when individuals defected than when they cooperated. In other words, the cooperative option exerted more " pull " on mouse movements in case of defection than the non-cooperative option (defection) did in case of cooperation. This effect was robust across different types of social dilemmas and occurred even in the prisoner's dilemma, where defection was predominant on the choice level. Additionally, the effect was stronger for dispositional cooperators as measured by the Honesty-Humility factor of the HEXACO personality model. As such, variation in the effect across individuals could be accounted for through cooperativeness.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Honesty-Humility
  • cognitive conflict
  • cooperation
  • intuition
  • mouse-tracking
  • personality
  • response dynamics
  • social dilemma

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  • ISSN: 19302975
  • PUI: 600659185
  • SCOPUS: 2-s2.0-84913591054
  • ISBN: 1930-2975
  • SGR: 84913591054


  • Pascal J Kieslich

  • Benjamin E Hilbig

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