Around The World, People Co-operate More Willingly With Others From Their Own Country

By Matthew Warren

Many of the world’s most pressing problems require global co-operation. If we are to combat climate change or contain the spread of devastating diseases, for instance, we need to work across borders and share resources.

So a new study in Nature Communications doesn’t make for encouraging reading. Using a common paradigm for studying co-operation, Angelo Romano from the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods and colleagues look at how more than 18,000 participants from 42 different countries co-operate with people from their own nation and elsewhere. They find that in every single country, participants show national parochialism: they co-operate more readily with people from their own country than with others.

Participants completed 12 trials of a prisoner’s dilemma task, each with a different partner who either came from their own country or another country (there were also some trials in which participants weren’t given any information about their partner’s nationality). In each trial, participants were given 10 “monetary units”, and had to decide how many to keep for themselves and how many to give to their partner. Any money they gave away was doubled — and any they received from their partner were doubled too — so in theory the optimal result would be for both parties to co-operate by giving away all of their money. Additionally, on some trials participants were told their decisions would be private, while on others they were told they would be published online.

The team found that people co-operated more (i.e. sent more money to their partner) when their partner came from the same country compared to when they came from a different country. This effect was statistically significant for 39 of the 42 countries, and the remaining three showed a non-significant trend in the same direction. It also didn’t matter whether or not their decisions were going to be made public: participants displayed this “national parochialism” either way. And although the decisions were all about a hypothetical pool of money, a sub-study in which participants actually received a monetary reward produced the same results.

Interestingly, the extent to which participants favoured co-operating with their compatriots over people from other nations was similar across the different countries, and the team didn’t find any evidence that this was related to cultural or political factors. By contrast, they did find that overall levels of co-operation varied by country and were related to particular factors. For instance, co-operation was generally greater in countries with more egalitarian values and those where there are more opportunities to establish new relationships with others.

The results suggest that national parochialism occurs around the world with surprisingly little variation. This is consistent with theories that our tendency to favour the in-group is a universal human behaviour, the authors write. However, they also note that past studies using different methodologies have found cultural differences in in-group favouritism, so further work is needed to understand the exact scenarios in which national parochialism emerges in different countries.

Still, the study shows that at least when it comes to making decisions about sharing goods with others, people are less keen to co-operate with those outside of their own country. While the paper focuses on decisions made at an individual level rather than those made by governments and institutions, the work has clear implications when it comes to understanding the obstacles to co-operating across borders. In fact, we’re in the middle of a pandemic that requires a co-ordinated, global response, yet in most low-income countries the vast majority of people haven’t received a single dose. The barriers to global co-operation are obviously multi-faceted, but national parochialism surely doesn’t help.  

National parochialism is ubiquitous across 42 nations around the world

Matthew Warren (@MattBWarren) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

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A brief jog sharpens the mind, boosting attentional control and perceptual speed. Now researchers are figuring out why

giphyBy Christian Jarrett

If you wanted to ensure your mind was in top gear, which do you think would provide the better preparation – 15 minutes of calm relaxation, or a 15 minute jog?

A study involving 101 undergrad students suggests you’d be better off plumping for the latter.

Evidence had already accumulated showing that relatively brief, moderate aerobic exercise – like going for a brisk walk or a jog – has immediate benefits for mental functioning, especially speed and attentional control. A parallel literature has also documented how brief, aerobic exercise has beneficial effects on your mood, including making you feel more energetic, even when you don’t expect it to. In their new paper in Acta Psychologica, Fabian Legrand and his colleagues bridged these findings by looking to see if the emotional effects of exercise might be at least partly responsible for the cognitive benefits.

They asked their participants to rate how energetic and vigorous they were feeling and then to complete two cognitive tests (versions of the Trail Making Test, which involves drawing lines between numbers and letters as fast and as accurately as possible).

Next, they allocated half their student participants to go for a 15 minute group jog around the campus and the others to spend the same time following group relaxation exercises. Finally, two minutes after the jog/relaxation session, the students answered the same questions as before about their feelings of energy, and then they repeated the cognitive tests.

The students who went for a jog, but not the relaxation students, subsequently showed significant improvement on the version of the Trail Making Test that measures mental speed and attentional control (but not the other that taps memory and cognitive switching). Moreover, this improvement in cognition was fully mediated by their increased feelings of energy and vigour, implying – although not proving conclusively – that the jog boosted cognition through its effects on their subjective sense of having more energy (in contrast, the relaxation group actually felt dramatically less energetic).

Among the study limitations was the fact the relaxation session took place inside, while the jog was outside. Notwithstanding this issue and some others, and while recognising the need for more research, Legrand and his team said that their findings “add weight to recent suggestions that increased feelings of energy may mediate the relationship between aerobic exercise and some aspects of cognitive functioning.”

Brief aerobic exercise immediately enhances visual attentional control and perceptual speed. Testing the mediating role of feelings of energy

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

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This is what happened to fathers’ hormone levels when they watched their kids play football

GettyImages-90647584.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

The effect of playing sport on men’s testosterone levels is well documented. Generally speaking, the winner enjoys a testosterone boost, while the loser experiences the opposite (though far less studied, competition unsurprisingly also affects women’s hormonal levels, though not in the same ways as men’s). The evolutionary-based explanation for the hormonal effects seen in men is that the winner’s testosterone rise acts to increase their aggression and the likelihood that they will seek out more contests, while the loser skulks off to lick their wounds. When it comes to vicarious effects of competition on men’s testosterone, however, the findings are more mixed. There’s some evidence that male sports fans show testosterone gains after seeing their teams win, but other studies have failed to replicate this finding.

A new, small study in Human Nature adds to this literature by examining the hormonal changes (testosterone and cortisol) in fathers watching their children play a football game – a situation in which you might particularly expect to see vicarious hormonal effects since it’s the men’s own kin who are involved.

The eighteen participating fathers (average age 47) were recruited in the US state of New Mexico where they were watching their kids (average age 13) play in a local football (soccer) tournament. Nine of them were watching their sons play, the others were watching their daughters. The dads provided saliva samples before and after the matches, and also answered some questions about their child and the game.

Anthropologist Louis Alvarado at the University at Albany and his colleagues, including the psychologists Melissa Eaton and Melissa Thompson at the University of New Mexico, found that the fathers’ testosterone and cortisol levels increased after the experience of watching the games (by 81 per cent and 417 per cent, respectively). These changes weren’t linked to the outcomes of the games, but were to an extent explained by whether or not the fathers believed that the referee had acted unfairly towards their child’s team – if they did perceive unfairness, the fathers’ post-match cortisol and testosterone tended to be higher (fathers with higher pre-match testosterone were also more likely to perceive unfairness).

The researchers said this main result of a link between hormonal changes and fairness  perception was “consistent with a functional explanation in which hormonal changes are associated with the potential for future conflict – here, in the context of responding to potential threats affecting one’s own status and that of kin.”

Given that aggression among parents watching their kids has become “an important cultural issue”, the researchers added that their results could “… have implications for the growing body of literature that attempts to curb the problem of sideline violence by identifying the proximate and individualistic factors associated with conflict potential.”

Other findings to come out of the study were that fathers watching their sons showed greater testosterone rises than fathers watching their daughters, as did fathers who felt sports were less important to their child (this latter result was opposite to expectations, and the researchers speculated that it was perhaps connected to the fathers’ frustration or disappointment that their child was not taking the competition seriously enough).

A more technical finding was that gains in the fathers’ “stress hormone” cortisol tended to predict subsequent increases in their testosterone. This result provides tentative support for the so-called “positive coregulation” model of cortisol and testosterone, in which increases in cortisol supplement the effects of testosterone when males are competing, while arguing against the opposite theory that sees cortisol as down-regulating testosterone and reducing the likelihood of the individual engaging in competitive behaviour in times of stress. The researchers said the “positive coregulation” model makes more sense in evolutionary terms, with stress (and cortisol) priming high-ranking male primates to be more competitive when they are faced with the threat of status competition from more junior males.

Steroid Hormone Reactivity in Fathers Watching Their Children Compete

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

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