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Why People Cooperate: The Role of Social Motivations

Tyler, Tom
Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 2010
ISBN 9780691146904 (pb)

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Reviewed by Francesc S. Beltran
Grup de Conducta Adaptativa i Interacció, Universitat de Barcelona

Cover of book Cooperation has long been a key topic in social sciences. Research on cooperation in disciplines such as sociology, political science, business management and social psychology has produced empirical data and models based on diverse methodological and theoretical approaches. This gave rise to an enormous body of literature. Also JASSS testified to this. Therefore, any potential reader may wonder whether a new book on cooperation is really necessary and ask if it has anything new to say. In my opinion, this book by Tom R. Tyler does. The author is a psychology professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at New York University, has done a great deal of influential research on the dynamics of authority within groups, procedural justice, legitimacy and managing group behaviour.

Professor Tyler's analysis focuses on the origin of social cooperation, starting from the evidence that cooperation is a key-factor for creating successful groups, organisations and communities. His main thesis here is that the fundamental factor that impels people to cooperate is social motivation, not instrumental motivation (i.e., a schedule of rewards and punishments).

The book is divided into three main sections. Section 1 (Chapters 1 and 2) describes the different forms of cooperative behaviour and provides an exhaustive summary of motivational models. Section 2 (Chapters 3 to 5) discusses empirical findings that show the predominant role played by social motivations in shaping people's cooperative behaviour. The research was conducted through surveys in three different settings where cooperation was required: organisations, communities and societies, i.e., cooperation with managerial, legal and political authorities. Chapter 3 focuses on cooperation between employees in work settings, Chapter 4 examines cooperation with authorities to regulate people's community lives and Chapter 5 deals with political participation, e.g., working with political leaders and voting. In all cases, stress is placed on the decisive influence of social motivation over instrumental motivation as an explanation of cooperation.

Finally, Section 3 (Chapters 6 to 8) discusses the implications of social motivation as the main factor shaping cooperative behaviour in groups. The conclusion is that cooperation increases in any social group if the group is capable of creating a structure which encourages social motivations over instrumental ones.

To sum up, the book is well written, the ideas are presented clearly and the arguments are empirically grounded. Professor Tyler not only captures the reader's attention, but also manages to change his/her mind about the topic. The book is highly recommended to researchers, academics, professionals and even laypeople interested in the topic. JASSS readers will find inspirations and arguments to build more realistic micro-models of social interaction capable of going beyond the limits of rational choice and utility maximization approaches.

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