We share nations and nationality

Clichés about nations control our actions

How people from different countries cooperate with one another depends on prejudices against other nationalities

Germans come to each appointment 5 hours in advance, all Indians are called Ranjid and have a red dot on their foreheads. The Japanese make 10,000 bows a day and the American speaks with chewing gum in their mouths. The list of stereotypes is endless and each country has its own about the other. They should help to quickly assess someone else. Angela Rachael Dorrough and Andreas Glöckner from the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods for six different countries wanted to find out what influence clichés about people from different nations have on the willingness to cooperate. They found that expectations, which are often characterized by strong cross-border clichés, play an important role.

In an increasingly globalized world, it is more and more important that people cooperate across borders. "Nowadays we make phone calls or trade with people around the world who we know nothing about but nationality," says Dorrough. "The usual economic theories often neglect the psychological and cultural aspects."

The Max Planck researchers now wanted to find out how the participants from different nations behave when they interact with one another. To this end, they let over 1,200 people from Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico and the USA play against each other online. How willing they are to share and collaborate can be playfully explored in science with the prisoner's dilemma. The participants, who cannot coordinate, have to choose selfish or cooperative behavior in a game. If both behave selfishly, both get nothing. If both cooperate and share, there is an average profit for both. If only one of the two behaves selfishly, he receives the largest chunk and the other is exploited to the maximum.

The prisoner's dilemma - viewed internationally

The dilemma is not knowing what the other is doing. So the partners try to gauge each other's behavior. If one expects selfish behavior from the partner, an equally selfish behavior is chosen. If you judge him to be cooperative, you will also cooperate. In this game, once played, the players only knew the nationality of the others. In order to find out more about how the participants formed their expectations, they were then asked how they rate their fellow players, based on the criteria for the presumed willingness to cooperate: trustworthy, friendly, generous or sympathetic. In order to be able to examine more closely a country that received bad values ​​in the assessment of willingness to cooperate, characteristics were also asked from other areas. Here the participants had to indicate how attractive, spiritual, sociable, athletic and wealthy they rate the others.

Opposing expectations

The researchers found that the players actually have strong, country-specific clichés about the behavior of their teammates. In a preliminary study, the researchers noticed how differently Americans assess the willingness to cooperate with partners from other countries. They expect a high level of willingness from the Japanese to cooperate, but a very low level of willingness from Israelis or Indians. Paradoxically, people from Israel assume that partners from the USA are very willing to cooperate and cooperate on their part. The Japanese are generally more pessimistic about the cooperative behavior of other nationalities, Germany is in the middle for the Japanese.

The participants act according to stereotypes that ultimately turn out to be false and actually correlate negatively with reality. To do this, the researchers compared the expected contributions with the actual results. Other participants often expect very cooperative behavior from the Japanese in the test, but this is ultimately not the case. Probably because the Japanese don't expect much cooperation from others. It hits the Israelis negatively, of whom it is generally assumed that there is little willingness to cooperate, although they are quite willing to share.

“There is often a true core in stereotypes, but if we wrongly misjudge people, we also react wrongly. That is exactly what we should make ourselves even more aware of, ”says Dorrough. This does not always work. "That would then be a task for research to find out how tools can be developed to counteract these erroneous assumptions."

But it's not just the clichés that influence behavior; the players also have different social preferences. So they are more benevolent towards fellow players from their own country, as well as towards people from poorer countries. Players from Mexico and India are getting more than expected. No connection was found with the spatial distance between the nations.

The researchers want to refine their results in the future by including other countries. You will also want to investigate how the degree of globalization or historical factors can explain certain behavior.