How to Create the Right Conditions for Collaboration

| By TMA World

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesProf. Melamed of Ohio University aimed to discover under what conditions people would collaborate most willingly.

Interestingly, in an interview, Prof. Melamed said “From an evolutionary perspective, cooperation shouldn’t exist between people – you always do better by not cooperating because then people can’t rip you off or take advantage of you.”

So why do we cooperate?

Basic Findings of the Paper

  • Give people the flexibility to choose their own collaborators, and the
  • Comfort of working with established contacts

Fuller Description

The Amazon Mechanical Turk website (a service allowing researchers and others to hire or recruit people) was used to find participants.  Eight hundred and ten participants were chosen to be representative of the U.S. population in terms of age, race, and other factors. 

Participants played online games in which each player began with 1,000 monetary units.  If one player agreed to pay another player 50 monetary units, that second person would acquire 100 units, i.e. if you agreed to give up five cents, someone else gained 10 cents.

Each of the 16-round games in the study included about 25 participants; some of them participated in in multiple games with different scenarios.  Some of the games:

  • Generated random networks in which certain people could interact.
  • Included clustered networks, in which a small group had multiple connections (an arrangement to mimic real life, where humans often operate in packs socially and at work).

Additionally, the networks were either static or dynamic:

  • In static networks, a player could only interact only with assigned partners for the duration.
  • In dynamic networks, participants could cut ties with another player and form new connections

Some of the games included reputation information (history of willingness to share money).  Surprising to some, reputation played no role in collaboration in the study.

Melamed concluded: “What really seems to matter is the ability to alter the structure of the network . . . and the pattern of relationships also made a difference.  Those in a known cluster with multiple connections collaborated more, which seems intuitive if you think about how we interact in the real world.”

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