Expanding the Circle - Pinter
Interplay of Personality and Situation in Individual-Group Discontinuity
Brad Pinter, Ph.D.
Penn State Altoona
Social dilemmas have long been used by psychologists and economists to understand individuals’ motivation and behavior in situations that present conflicting goals. Among them, the Prisoner’s Dilemma game (PDG) has received considerable attention in the literature. In the PDG, two players must decide – often simultaneously – between two options offering differing monetary rewards. Both players have identical options (cooperative and competitive), and the combination of the players’ choices determines the outcomes for both players. The dilemma is that although the competitive choice provides superior outcomes for each player separately, its selection by both players yields inferior rewards collectively. Decision-making in such situations can be difficult, and that makes the PDG a ripe situation for exploring a variety of processes.
The program of research on interindividual-intergroup discontinuity (Wildschut, Pinter, Insko, Vevea, & Schopler, 2003) has focused on comparing the behavior of pairs of individuals to pairs of three-person groups within the context of the PDG. This research has repeatedly demonstrated that intergroup interactions are often more competitive than interindividual interactions, a finding dubbed the discontinuity effect. Several processes contribute to the discontinuity effect, including, in intergroup situations, increased fear (“We’re afraid the other side will renege on their promise”), greed (“We can get more if we trick them”), normative pressure (“Getting more for our group is the right thing to do”), and the potential to rationalize selfish motivation (“I do what I do to help the group…No really”), as well as decreased personal identifiability (“No one will know what any of us did”). This research has interesting implications for the construct of “communion”. In particular, when an individual identifies with several groups, expressing solidarity and commitment to one group may come at the expense and exclusion of another.
A few years ago I became interested in understanding the interplay of situational constraints and personality factors influencing the discontinuity effect. In two experiments (Pinter, et al., 2007) we set up a group situation for which one member of each three-person group would be appointed the group’s leader and make PDG-decisions on the behalf of their groups. In the crucial second experiment we manipulated the accountability of the leaders by having some leaders expect that their decisions would be highly visible to their group members and other leaders expect that their decisions would not be known to their group members. We also assessed guilt-proneness (Tangney & Dearing, 2002), which involves a concern about the effect of one’s behavior on others. High guilt-prone individuals show an increased concern with doing the right thing and avoiding harming others, yet the “right thing” may depend on which group they identify with in that moment. We reasoned that their actions may depend on whether the situation is interpersonal (where norms of fairness, politeness, and reciprocity are active), or intergroup (where concern for the ingroup is paramount). We expected that interpersonal norms would be active for unaccountable leaders and individuals whereas intergroup norms would be active for accountable leaders. Results were consistent with this line of reasoning: Individuals and unaccountable leaders were not very competitive, particularly with high guilt-proneness. This result is consistent with the idea that cooperative norms are active in interpersonal situations (and even in intergroup situations when in-group favoring normative pressures are low). In contrast, we found that accountable leaders were more competitive than individuals or unaccountable leaders, particularly with high guilt-proneness. This result is consistent with the idea that when normative pressure to favor the ingroup is high, people will be particularly competitive, especially those more sensitive to norms. Clearly, moral inclination can work in the service of the many or the few depending upon the situational frame.
In subsequent work I have remained interested in understanding the intersection of personality and situation in social dilemmas. In one experiment (Pinter & Wildschut, 2012) we explored further the “dark” side of guilt-proneness by creating a situation that permitted group members to rationalize competitive behavior as being done in the service of a group. We found that participants who had the opportunity to rationalize competitive behavior indeed competed more, but only those who also were low in guilt-proneness. This finding is consistent with the idea that dispositionally selfishly individuals are particularly likely to take advantage of situations that provide opportunities to exploit others.
In a related, ongoing project (Pinter, 2017), I measured Honesty-Humility (H-H), a component of the HEXACO model of personality (Ashton & Lee, 2007) that, like guilt-proneness, references moral propensities from participants who played Ultimatum or Dictator dilemma games. In Ultimatum one player is given a limited amount of some resource (say 100 coins) and must propose a split with another player, who has veto power. If a proposal is accepted, players receive their agreed-upon outcomes, but if the proposal is denied, neither player receives anything. In Dictator the situation is similar except that the second player has no veto power; they are at the mercy of whatever the first player proposes. My initial results show that players proposed more equal splits with Ultimatum than with Dictator, but that low H-H individuals acting as part of a group were particular selfish in Dictator. As in the aforementioned study, this result suggests that dispositionally selfish individuals strategically use social context as a cover for antisocial action. When situations allow it, they are ruthless in pursuing their objectives.
In summary, I hope this brief tour of some of my work has highlighted the value of examining person-situation interactions in the context of social dilemmas. This experimental paradigm offers a unique way to examine themes of agency and communion playing out over time, and under which conditions. As someone concerned about the state of the world, I am often reminded of the great challenges humanity faces by participants’ explanations of their behavior in my post-experimental questionnaires. One such reminder came from an individual who explained his Dictator allocation of 99 for himself and 1 for the other person in this way: “Well, I didn’t want to be selfish.”
(In case, you’re wondering, yes, he scored as low H-H and was playing the game as a member of a group.)
Ashton, M. C., & Lee, K. (2007). Empirical, theoretical, and practical advantages of the HEXACO model of personality structure. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11, 150-166.
Pinter, B., Insko, C. A., Wildschut, T., Kirchner, J., Montoya, M. R., & Wolf, S. (2007). Reduction of interindividual-intergroup discontinuity: The role of leader accountability and proneness to guilt. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 250-265.
Pinter, B. (2017). [Personality and Interindividual-Intergroup Discontinuity in Ultimatum and Dictator games]. Unpublished raw data.
Pinter, B., & Wildschut, T. (2012). Self-interest masquerading as ingroup beneficence: Altruistic rationalization and interindividual-intergroup discontinuity. Small Groups Research, 43, 105-123.
Tangney, J. P., & Dearing, R. L. (2002). Shame and guilt. New York: Guilford Press.
Wildschut, T., Pinter, B., Vevea, J. L., Insko, C. A., & Schopler, J. (2003). Beyond the group mind: A quantitative review of the interindividual-intergroup discontinuity effect. Psychological Bulletin,129, 698-722.