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Diversity, Intelligence, and Robust Cooperation in Social-Ecological Systems



This interdisciplinary research project will analyze how a diversity of cognitive abilities affects the ability of groups to resolve conflicts of interest that arise in changing environments between what is best for an individual and what is best for a group as a whole. The project will provide new insights that help address a broad range of problems, such as managing access to scarce water, which require balancing individual and group interests in a manner that results in cooperation rather than social dissolution. Project findings will contribute to understanding why some groups are more effective than others at acting in concert to manage resources by resolving the tension between individual and group interests in changing environments. The intellectual contributions of the project will include a better understanding of the cognitive-social-environmental interactions that promote the sustained collective governance of resources in dynamic environments and a better understanding of the evolution of prosocial behavior and intelligence in humans as a species. The project will expand knowledge about the optimal level of diversity in terms of general and social intelligence to solve complex problems, and it will provide insights into the ability of social groups to sustain the goods and services provided by ecosystems. Project results will have strong and direct implications for situations in which teams must cooperate to solve complex problems in changing environments. Such teams can function in settings as diverse as platoons or boardrooms. The project will provide education and training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students.

The project will provide new insights regarding the so-called Functional Intelligence Proposition, which holds that two cognitive abilities -- general intelligence and social intelligence -- are critical for groups to resolve the tension between individual vs. group interests and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. General intelligence is critical for understanding how a social or ecological system works and how to find the best strategy to manage resources under conditions of change. Social intelligence is critical for maintaining social cohesion in spite of the interpersonal disagreements that inevitably arise in social groups. A functional diversity of intelligence capacities is expected to result in more robust collective action in dynamic environments than either an abundance of individuals with high general intelligence or social intelligence alone. The Functional Intelligence Proposition synthesizes theory developed in anthropology, psychology, and resource economics, with the synthesis contributing to enhancement of a general theory of human behavior that explains why some individuals are self-regarding and others more cooperative. To evaluate the Functional Intelligence Proposition, the investigators will seek answers to three questions: (1) Are groups with higher levels of social intelligence better able to maintain cooperation to manage resources in spite of a social change than groups with lower social intelligence? (2) Are groups with higher general intelligence better able to maintain cooperation to manage resources in spite of changes to a resource system than groups with lower general intelligence? (3) Does a model that explicitly describes the effects of social and general intelligence better predict the performance of groups than models that assume actors are best described by ideal behavioral types? To answer these questions, the investigators will use controlled behavioral experiments and computational modeling. The experiments and modeling will be used to evaluate the effects of general and social intelligence on the ability of groups to sustainably harvest common pool resources. This project is supported through the NSF Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (IBSS) competition.

View the National Science Foundation Grant here.

Working Papers

Published Papers