Morality in the time of cognitive famine: The effects of memory load on cooperation and honesty

Panagiotis Mitkidis*, Jonas K. Lindeløv, Christian T. Elbaek, Michaela Porubanova, Joanna Grzymala-Moszczynska, Dan Ariely


Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review

1 Citationer (Scopus)


Though human social interaction in general seems effortless at times, successful engagement in collaborative or exploitative social interaction requires the availability of cognitive resources. Research on Dual-Process suggests that two systems, the affective (non-reflective) and the cognitive (reflective), are responsible for different types of reasoning. Nevertheless, the evidence on which system leads to what type of behavioral outcome, in terms of prosociality, is at best contradicting and perplexing. In the present paper, we examined the role of the two systems, operationalized as working memory depletion, in prosocial decision-making. We hypothesize that the nature of the available cognitive resources could affect whether humans engage in collaborative or exploitative social interaction. Using Operation Span to manipulate the availability of working memory, we examined how taxing the cognitive system affects cooperation and cheating. In two experiments, we provide evidence that concurrent load, but not cumulative load is detrimental to cooperation, whereas neither concurrent nor cumulative load seems to affect cheating behavior. These findings are in contrast to several previous assumptions. We discuss limitations, possible explanations, and future directions.

TidsskriftActa Psychologica
StatusUdgivet - aug. 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
We thank L.K. Seitzberg, C. Cedergren, D.M.A. Castrillon, & J. Olvido for assistance during the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


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