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Cooperation Among Strangers Has Gradually Increased in the U.S. Since the 1950s

According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, cooperation among strangers has been steadily increasing in the United States since the 1950s, despite widespread concerns that the social fabric is unraveling.

Principal investigator, Ph.D., professor in social psychology from Beijing Normal University, Yu. Kou said, "We were surprised by our findings that Americans have become more cooperative over the last six decades because many believe American society has become less socially connected, less trusting, and less committed to the better. More collaboration within and between communities can help us tackle global challenges such as responses to pandemics, climate change, and migration crises."

Researchers analyzed 511 studies conducted in the United States between 1956 and 2017 with more than 63,000 participants. These studies included laboratory experiments measuring cooperation between strangers. The research was published online in the Psychological Bulletin.

Article: “Did Cooperation Among Strangers Decline in the United States? A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of Social Dilemmas (1956–2017),” Yu Kou, PhD, Beijing Normal University, Mingliang Yuan, PhD, Anhui Agricultural University, Giuliana Spadaro, PhD, Shuxian Jin, PhD, Paul A. M. Van Lange, PhD, and Daniel Balliet, PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Junhui Wu, PhD, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. Psychological Bulletin, published online July 18, 2022.

The study found a slight incremental increase in collaboration over the 61 years; This, the researchers believe, may be related to notable changes in American society. Increased cooperation has been associated with increased urbanization, social wealth, income inequality, and the number of people living alone. The study cannot prove that these factors cause an increase in cooperation; it can only establish a correlation.

In previous research, increased cooperation has been linked to market competitiveness and economic growth. Co-author Paul Van Lange, a professor of social psychology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, said that as more people live in cities alone, they may have to cooperate with strangers.

"People can learn to gradually extend cooperation with friends and acquaintances to strangers, which is necessary for more urban and anonymous societies," Van Lange said. Said. “American society may have become more individualistic, but people are not.

Studies analyzed were conducted primarily in student-participating laboratories, so the results may not represent real-life situations or American society. However, the researchers noted that previous studies have not found that levels of cooperation in the United States vary by gender or ethnicity.

The study did not measure other social factors, such as the level of trust in strangers. Previous research has found an overall decline in confidence in the United States over several decades.

"An intriguing implication of these findings is that while Americans increase cooperation over time, their belief in others' willingness to cooperate decreases," the journal article says.

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