Competition and Cooperation

From PsychWiki - A Collaborative Psychology Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search

When it comes to interaction and group dynamics, there are two particular factors that can hinder or facilitate group achievement: competition of cooperation (Deutsch,2003). Within a group or team setting, the two factors of cooperation and competition can either propel the team to success or consign the group’s effort to failure depending on which factor is dominant. Cooperation is “work[ing] or act[ing] together or jointly for a common purpose or benefit (cooperate). Competition, on the other hand, takes place when people “strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same thing” (Oxford American Dictionaries).

Deutsch suggests six “cooperative relations” in which he describes six positive characteristics that make cooperation within a group more likely. These six factors include: 1. Effective communication. 2. Friendliness, helpfulness, and less obstructiveness. 3. Coordination of effort, divisions of labor, orientation of task achievements, orderliness in discussion, and high productivity. 4. Feelings of agreement with the ideas of others and a sense of basic similarity in beliefs in one’s own ideas and in the value that other members attach to those ideas. 5. The willingness to enhance the other’s power (as others capabilities are strengthened, you are strengthened). 6. Defining conflicting interests as a mutual problem to be solved by collaborative effort (Deustch). In his six points, Deustch articulates the ideal features one would expect to find in an environment of a cooperative organization. And just as these factors contribute toward the cooperativeness of a group, one would find the opposite characteristics prevalent in a group where internal or in-group competition prevails. Poor communication, obstructiveness and lack of helpfulness (Deustch,2003), and group disorder, disagreement and the critical rejection of ideas (Deustch), and striving to “enhance one’s own power” (Deutsch,2003) sum up the “conflicting relations.”

An example of cooperation versus competition can be found in a study called The Prisoner’s Dilemma (Dixit and Nalebuff). In this tradeoff, two criminals (we’ll call them 1 and 2) are arrested on the “suspicion of having committed armed robbery and sure enough they are found to be carrying concealed weapons” (Dixit and Nalebuff). The police are able to talk to the suspects separately and both are given an opportunity to confess or “rat out” the other person. In this situation, there are four plausible and equally likely outcomes. In the first, both parties could cooperate with each other and refuse to confess or turn his or her partner in. The outcome of this condition is most beneficial for both individuals in that they are most like to receive a light sentence as a result of being armed, but not a long sentence for the actual crime. In the second and third situations, one of the individuals “rats out” the other and therefore he receives a light sentence while his partner receives a longer sentence for the crime. In this state of affairs, there is a sort of competition where there are conflicting interests amongst the two individuals. In the final circumstance both individuals rat each other out, are convicted and found guilty, and both serve equally long sentences in prison.


Avinash Dixit and Barry Nalebuff, "Prisoners’ Dilemma." The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. 2008. Library of Economics and Liberty. 4 December 2008. <>.

Baumeister, Roy F., and Brad J. Bushman. Social Psychology and Human Nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008260. 260-61

cooperate. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved December 04, 2008, from website:

Deutsch, Morton. "Cooperation and Conflict." 22 Nov. 2008 <>.(M Deutsch - International Handbook of Organizational Teamwork and …, 2003)

Personal tools