Collective Reasoning as a Moral Point of View

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Sociology


Everybody knows a free rider: the flatmate that does not do the dishes, the friend who never invites back for dinner, the work colleague who pushes work your way. If honest, everyone can probably point to a situation where they did something like this. The same person might be a free-rider in one situation and a collective contributor in the next. What are the triggers of making one choice or the other? How do these triggers depend on social factors such as observations of behaviours in ones network or the overall population? What are the population outcomes of different social and personal dynamics? And what kinds of social structures strengthen or weaken cooperative behaviour? This project investigates the triggers and social settings of collective or individual choices and the resulting dynamics of cooperation.

Planned Impact

This project is part of cooperation research and as such has impact in line with that research field. Robert Axelrod, in a recent anniversary talk of his work, characterised the three central questions of cooperation research as
1. Under what conditions can cooperation emerge and be sustained among actors who are egoists?
2. What advice can be offered to a player in a given setting about the best strategy to use?
3. What advice can be offered to reformers who want to alter the very terms of the interaction so as to promote the emergence of cooperation?
In our case, question 1. needs to be rephrased to "under what conditions can collective reasoning remain a sustainable choice of agents? And what are the triggers by which agents change their decision focus from collective to individual and vice versa?" Questions 2. and 3. directly apply to our project.
Currently many incentive structures are such that they enhance personal payoff, e.g. bonuses, performance related pay etc. There are many examples in which personal payoff incentives have led to undesirable behaviour of the individual as can be seen from sub-prime mortgages or the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI). This project investigates the possibility of enshrining collective behaviour and investigates the conditions under which collective behaviour can flourish.
The collective reasoning approach offers new explanations to two existing problems. First of all it can contribute to the understanding of the crowding out of intrinsic motivations by external incentives. The collective approach can be interpreted as a change of viewpoint on the payoff matrix from seeing the individual rows and columns to seeing the "collective diagonal". Offering money for pro-social action re-focuses the agent on the individual row/column comparison, undermining the collective framing.
Secondly, through investigating the influence of an actor's perception of the size of the existing coalition of co-operators on the choice to cooperate, the approach contributes to investigating the dynamics of phase transitions and self-fulfilling prophesies.
Finally, research into predictors of positive behaviour has found that moral preferences are a strong predictor for good behaviour. Through analysing the importance of the perception of the group, this project can contribute to understanding what the reasoning behind such moral decisions might be and how this reasoning is triggered. It can thus contribute to formulating better policies than incentives to enshrine pro-social behaviour.
Enhanced understanding of these mechanisms and processes can contribute to the formulation of more effective policies for society, organizations and companies. Awareness of collective reasoning alone might change the perception of how to motivate people, while study of the extrinsic motivations can provide further, applicable information.


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Description The project set out to investigate the influence of social contexts on levels of cooperation in collective dilemmas. Examples for collective dilemmas are common resource dilemmas, such as public goods games (contribution to a resource) or the tragedy of the commons (not overusing a resource) but also traditional game theoretic dilemmas such as the prisoner's dilemma and coordination games such as the Stag Hunt. Most past research focussed on finding social order mechanisms such as social norms or reciprocity or psychological dispositions such as altruism. This project approaches the problem of collective dilemmas from a new vantage point of collective reasoning, using an extension of game theory called team reasoning.

The social contexts were investigated using an agent-based model. Teams were initialised with different levels of initial team reasoning. Agents adapted to their social context by cooperating unless trust in their team is lost due to high defection rates.

Results showed that team reasoning is indeed a possible solution for collective dilemmas in that it shows under which conditions collective goods are sustainable, the influence of different initial levels of team reasoning on group, individual payoffs and team equity.

In addition to the model providing an insight into collective dynamics in a public goods game it is also an implementation of team reasoning that can be imported into agent based model as an alternative to the traditionally used individual reasoning.
Exploitation Route The TReaColD model and model code will be available openly once the final article is published (currently under review and online publication would undermine the blind peer review process). Extensions to TReaColD are under way, investigating intra team dynamics in which agents can switch teams if trust in their team is waning. Future work includes implementing TReaColD in real life case studies to investigate cooperation levels in sustainable resource management.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Energy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Title Collective Reasoning in Extortion Racket Systems 
Description An agent-based model analysing the influence that collective reasoning in an adversarial commons dilemma, like an extortion racket. The model is programmed in NetLogo. Results from the model show the importance of neighbourhood deterrence and bottom up dynamics for combating extortion racketeering. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The model was presented to Stakeholders involved in combating organised crime. 
Title TReaColD Team Reasoning in Collective Dilemmas 
Description TReaColD is a model to explore the problem of collective dilemmas using collective reasoning as a solution base. It is the first implementation of team reasoning in a generalised commons dilemma situation. It stands in contrast to normal social mechanisms used as solutions, such as sanctioning and reputation mechanisms. The model takes Bacharach's theory of team reasoning as its backdrop and develops a public goods game (PGG). The population consists of agents which are either trusters (default trust 1) or distrusters (default trust 0). Agents cooperate or defect in the PGG in line with their level of trust in the cooperation of their team. This trustworthiness is extrapolated from the shared out payoff and trust levels are adjusted accordingly. In the short, medium to long term (depending on agent's learning rate) actions are fully determined contextually. The model is implemented in NetLogo and results show that team reasoning is indeed a solution to commons dilemmas and a candidate explanation for the high levels of cooperation found in real life commons dilemmas. The results show how fully cooperative groups can emerge from very adverse conditions as well as how highly cooperative groups can be destroyed by minimal distrust. It further shows the conditions under which trusters do better than distrusters and differences in equity of groups of different compositions. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The model is a highly economical implementation of team reasoning and will function as a basis for several extension models (in preparation). Its lean nature will support it being used as a baseline model by other researchers in the use of commons dilemmas in more applied case studies.