Two people can learn to cooperate with each other intuitively -- without communication or any conscious intention to cooperate. But this process breaks down in groups of three or more.
A study by members of the University of Leicester's School of Psychology and Department of Economics set out to explain how two people learn to cooperate without even knowing that they are interacting with each other. In larger groups, explicit communication is needed to coordinate actions.
Professor Andrew Colman, Dr Briony Pulford, Dr David Omtzigt, and Dr Ali al-Nowaihi carried out the study, due to appear in the journal Cognitive Psychology. The research, funded by the British Academy, has helped to explain the mechanisms of intuitive cooperation.
The researchers conducted a series of laboratory experiments with groups of various sizes and developed a mathematical model of the intuitive learning process. Experimental participants received financial gains or losses after pressing one of two buttons on a computer, unaware that the outcome depended not on their own choice but on their neighbour's. It turned out that after many repetitions of the game, gains gradually exceeded losses in groups of two but not in three-person and larger groups.
Professor Colman said: "Here's a simple example that shows the basic idea. Every morning, Alf chooses whether to give his son raisins or cheese sticks to snack on during the day. Similarly, Beth chooses between popcorn or peanuts for her daughter's snack. The children are friends and always share their snacks with each other at school, although their parents know nothing about this. Alf's son is allergic to peanuts and gets ill if he eats any of his friend's peanuts, and Beth's daughter is allergic to cheese and gets ill if she eats any of her friend's cheese sticks. The upshot is that although each parent's snack choice has no effect whatsoever on his or her own child's wellbeing, in each case one option leaves the other parent's child well and its parent happy, whereas the alternative option makes the other child ill and upsets its parent.
"The choices of Alf and Beth govern each other's fates and, in the game of life, while two people may 'develop an understanding' or work intuitively together -- this scenario is easily distorted once a third person becomes involved. Without effective planning and ground rules, even the best of working relationships between two people can become undone once a third is involved.
"Married couples or pairs of business partners may be able to rely on this type of intuitive cooperation, to an extent, but larger groups need explicit communication and planning. Mechanisms need to be put in place to facilitate it. Intuitive cooperation is really a case of two's company, but three's a crowd."
Andrew Colman is a Professor of Psychology, Briony Pulford is a Lecturer in Psychology, and Ali al-Nowaihi is a Lecturer in Economics at the University of Leicester. David Omtzigt, formerly a Research Associate at the University of Leicester, is now a Postdoctoral Researcher at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The research was funded by the British Academy Larger Research Grants Scheme.
Materials provided by University of Leicester. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
- Andrew M. Colman, Briony D. Pulford, David Omtzigt, Ali al-Nowaihi. Learning to cooperate without awareness in multiplayer minimal social situations. Cognitive Psychology, 2010; 61 (3): 201 DOI: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.05.003
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University of Leicester. "Two's company, but three's a crowd: Two people can learn to cooperate intuitively, but larger groups need to communicate." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101027202505.htm>.
University of Leicester. (2010, October 28). Two's company, but three's a crowd: Two people can learn to cooperate intuitively, but larger groups need to communicate. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 12, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101027202505.htm
University of Leicester. "Two's company, but three's a crowd: Two people can learn to cooperate intuitively, but larger groups need to communicate." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101027202505.htm (accessed March 12, 2018).
TWO IS COMPANY, THREE IS CROWD
Everybody likes friends and friendship. It is always good to have the company of a good friend. A single person always feels lonely. He wants someone to love and to be loved. He wants to share his joys and sorrows with someone. He wants help and encouragement. Only a friend can fulfill all these needs. So he is constantly on the lookout for a company. Two persons make the ideal company. They supplement each other. The qualities of true friendship, namely, mutual understanding, good-will and fellow-feeling, exist among them. They share their sorrows and joys. They try to strengthen and inspire each other. But when a third person enters the company, the balance of friendship is disturbed. The dependence of the two on each other is lost. Each one may try to cultivate friendship with the new comer. A sort of inner fight grows among them. When the number of friends increases, the company turns into a crowd. It may then become difficult to take a decision which is acceptable to all. The larger the number of persons in a company, the more unmanageable it becomes. True friendship cannot exist in a crowd. So, it is said that two is company, three is crowd.
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