Aggression, fast and slow: Intuition also favors defensive aggression

Jim A.C. Everett, Zachary Ingbretsen, Fiery Cushman, and Mina Cikara

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Dec 28, 2018
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Received Date: 10th December

In certain threatening social encounters, humans seem to act distrustfully, uncooperatively, even aggressively by default, and must reason themselves towards comity and moderation.  Yet, the contemporary scientific literature mostly supports the opposite view, according to which we are “intuitively prosocial”: acting cooperatively by default in positive-sum interactions in games such as the Prisoner’s dilemma. Could a change in the nature of the game elicit a different profile of default behavior? Across four studies we investigate whether intuition might also favor defensive aggression. We develop a“pre-emptive strike game” in which two players make a series of decisions about whether to live-and-let-live, or instead pay a small cost to imposing a large cost on the other player, knocking them out of the game. In this setting we find that default aggression prevails.  Moreover, this aggressive tendency can be overridden when playing the game against in-group members, but tends not to be when playing against out-group members.  In short, when faced with a social partner who may choose to harm them, people default towards defensive aggression. 

Read in full at PsyArXiv.

This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.


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