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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Aug 5, 2022


Research reveals cooperation among strangers has varied over the past 60 years and the results may surprise you.



Welcome to episode 149 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we bring research to life in your leadership. This week we explore how cooperation among strangers has varied over time.

It’s easy to think that society has become more individualistic and self-centred. With that, you might assume that cooperation between strangers has decreased over time. However recent research demonstrates that the opposite is true. In the US at least, cooperation among strangers has steadily increased since the 1950s.  

The researchers worked through over 500 studies conducted from 1956 to 2017. This research included over 63,000 participants. In summarising the findings, one of the researchers, Van Lange, said “U.S. society may have become more individualistic, but people have not." Today we’ll explore what that means for us in a work setting.

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan have contributed greatly to our understanding of human motivation and needs through their research. According to Deci and Ryan, the need for connection, belonging and support is a basic human need. They found that supporting others is also part of that need - we are motivated to help others. We want to help people and cooperate - it motivates us and makes us feel more positive. 

As we have steadily moved from regional areas towards cities with more people living alone, we now meet these basic needs more through strangers. Pre-pandemic our days would include many times more interactions with strangers than would have been common in the 1950s. However, with a move towards people working from home, perhaps this trend has shifted back, if only for a few years. Maybe we will build deeper connections in our immediate area around where we live. Only time will tell.

Part of what makes work engaging is the ability to work with others - to provide and receive support that contributes to something bigger than ourselves. 

This week, why not put these findings to the test. Find ways that you can support others, even those you don’t know very well. It won’t just help them, it will help you too.

If you found this episode helpful, I would love it if you could take a minute to provide a rating and review. This really helps others to find the podcast. Have a great week.



Mingliang Yuan, Giuliana Spadaro, Shuxian Jin, Junhui Wu, Yu Kou, Paul A. M. Van Lange, Daniel Balliet. Did cooperation among strangers decline in the United States? A cross-temporal meta-analysis of social dilemmas (1956–2017).. Psychological Bulletin, 2022; 148 (3-4): 129