The Impact of Group Membership on Cooperation

The successful function of any kind of organization depends on the willingness of members to take part in unselfish actions that serve the improvement of efficiency (Vgl. Goette et al., 2006).

Wintersemester 2020: Peter Pichler

The extent of this non (directly) rewarded or sanctioned behavior can also be considered "motivational capital". But can motivational capital or cooperation be measured and/or proven within a social group?

This blogpost investigates whether groups of members (or a social network of members) is beneficial for the motivational capital and the purpose of cooperation within organizations based on an experimental study. 

According to Hughes Global Education (2020), Cooperation can make the difference between success and failure for many businesses. In a cooperation-rich workplace, individuals voluntarily engage in open communication. Management and lower-level employees work together and try to keep arguments to a minimum. Workers are proactive, in the sense that they try to prevent problems before they have a chance to occur. Cooperation is not always an easy thing to achieve in the workplace, but it is worth the effort because it leads to a more harmonious and productive operation. 

To illustrate whether established networks/groups of members improve cooperation within its individuals, I decided to summarize an experiment (ref. Goette et al., 2006) within the swiss army, that investigated the extent of cooperation according to the following experimental design:

Individuals that participate in the officer training of the Swiss army are assigned to platoons in a random manner for the 31 days of its operational time, where they can only interact with members of their own platoon. The focus of the study is the treatment of members of the own, and the other platoons (after the training period) in a variety of choice experiments in order to examine the levels of cooperation within and between the members of different groups.

All the participants of the study were part of the JOTP (Joint Officer Training Program), which is a selective training program for contestants for the role of an officer in the swiss army, following the 21-day basic training. 

The groups were assigned totally random, with a following analysis of the cultural, financial and educational background, that concluded that there is no thickening of any quality or background factor that could influence the behavior of the platoons or any group of individuals within the JOTP.

The study examined the levels of cooperation in the experimental design of a prisoner’s dilemma where two contestants must simultaneously decide whether to pass or keep the 20 given points. If the individuals decide to pass the points, they are then doubled.

In the frame of this game, passing the points to the other contestant can be referred to as cooperation and keeping the point can be referred to as defection (with the perfect subgame Nash-equilibrium being an amount 0 points passed). 

The only information of the identity of the other individual involved in the experiment was whether they were part of the own platoon, or part of another platoon, allowing to analyze the differences of internal or external treatment of groups regarding favoritism and hostility. 

While playing with an external platoon member only 50 % of the choices of the contestants resulted in cooperation, where playing with the member of the own platoon resulted in 69 % of the choices being cooperative. 

This result is also in direct relation to the beliefs of the participants, where 57 % declared that they expect cooperation from the other party if they were part of their own platoon, and only 41 % expected cooperation from the other party if they were members of any other group. (Vgl. Goette et al., 2006)

The result of the experiment empirically shows that cooperation is a developing factor in organizations and social groups, meaning that individuals that both know that they are part of a specific group tend to cooperate more frequently than individuals that have no sense of belonging together. The result of the experiment underlies the importance of team building and organizational culture in the context of organizational efficiency and highlights the relevance of team spirit for cooperation in organizations, but also shows the tendencies for hostility towards outsiders or strangers that an established group represents.


Importance of Co-operate in the Corporate. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2020, from

Goette, L. Huffman, D. Meier, S. (2006) The Impact of Group Membership on Cooperation and Norm Enforcement: Evidence Using Random Assignment to Real Social Groups



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