Cooperation in Social Groups: Cheater Perception and Memory in Intergroup Contexts

DFG Project by Stefanie Hechler, Franz J. Neyer & Thomas Kessler

The Project

The project "Cooperation in Social Groups" was part of the DFG research unit Person Perception from 2012 to 2015. It was based ont the notion that cooperation is a pervasive feature in human groups, but bears a risk of being a victim of cheating. To ensure high levels of cooperation, people have to perceive and remember cheating in order to punish or avoid the cheater in the future. In this project, we successfully extended research on detection and memory for cheaters from an interpersonal to an intergroup context.We found that participants have an enhanced memory for ingroup cheaters, but not outgroup cheaters (Hechler, Neyer, & Kessler, 2016). Ingroup identification (psychological meaning of the ingroup) and authoritarian tendencies (focus on deviant behavior) foster the better memory for ingroup cheaters. Once the cheater is detected, the group may want to punish them in order to maintain ingroup norms and/or protect ingroup victims. A second line of research thus systematically disentangled the roles of cheaters and their victims, and their group memberships. Anger about misdeeds is elicited by the perpetrator's bad intent, but less by the consequences for the victims (Hechler & Kessler, minor revision). Further studies demonstrated that an interaction between only outgroup members elicits emotional and behavioral reactions, irrespective of involvement with perpetrator or victim. Thus, next to group-based emotions, moral emotions play a crucial role in the evaluation of cheaters. These reactions vary in terms of group membership of cheater and victim. In a third line of research, we examined the role of attention and eye-gaze for cooperation and cheater detection in intergroup contexts. Results show that cooperation is focused in interactions with ingroup members, but less in interactions with outgroup members. In sum, our research refines the understanding of detecting, memorizing, and dealing with cheaters with a particular focus on the maintenance of cooperation within one's ingroup. On scientific article was published in the peer-reviewed journal Cognition (impact factor: 3.411). Moreover, two theoretical open peer commentaries on cooperation and reactions to cheaters were released in the journal Behavioral and Brain Science (impact factor: 20.415). One more manuscript for a scientific article is currently under review.


Hechler, S., & Kessler, T. (2018). On the difference between moral outrage and empathic anger: Anger about wrongful deeds or harmful consequences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 270-282. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2018.03.005External link

Hechler, S., & Kessler, T. (2018). Talking to others: The importance of responsibility attributions by observers. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 41, e46. doi:10.1017/S0140525X1700070XExternal link [commentary to Doris, J.M. on Talking to Our Selves: Reflection, Ignorance, and Agency]

Hechler, S., Neyer, F. J., & Kessler, T. (2016). The infamous among us: Enhanced reputational memory for uncooperative ingroup members. Cognition, 157, 1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.08.001External link

Seewald, D., Hechler, S., & Kessler, T. (2016). Divorcing the puzzles: When group identities foster in-group cooperation. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, e23. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X15000539External link