Strong cross-societal cliches about people from different nations may influence decisions and willingness to cooperate, finds a study. For the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers invited 1,200 people from Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico and the US to take part in an online game with one another.
To learn about how the participants formed their expectations, they were subsequently asked about how they assessed their co-players — on the basis of criteria for assuming a willingness to cooperate: Trustworthy, friendly, generous or likeable. The researchers also asked the participants about other characteristics like to specify how attractive, spiritual, sociable, sporty and wealthy they considered the others to be.
The study revealed that the players hold strong beliefs that are influenced by nation-specific cliches about the behaviour of their co-players. The researchers had already shown in previous study how differently US Americans assess the willingness to cooperate of partners from other countries. For example, they expect a high degree of willingness from the Japanese, but a very low level of willingness from Israelis or Indians.
Paradoxically, people from Israel assume a very high level of cooperation from partners in the US and cooperate for their part. The Japanese are essentially more pessimistic about the cooperative behaviour of other nationalities; Germany ranks at an average level in this regard for the Japanese. The participants thus behave according to stereotypes, even though these ultimately prove to be false and actually correlate negatively with reality. This prompted the researchers to compare the expected contributions with the actual results.
Participants, for instance, often expect very cooperative behaviour from the Japanese in the test, which ultimately is not the case – most likely because the Japanese do not expect a great deal of cooperation from others. These stereotypes have a negative effect on the Israelis – a lower level of willingness to cooperate is generally expected from them, even though they are fully prepared to share.
“There can often be some truth in stereotypes, but if we unjustly judge people wrongly, then our responses are also wrong. This alone should make us more aware,” said Angela Rachael Dorrough, Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.