The Effect of Different Types of Stress on Group Cooperation



I conduct two experiments to examine the effects of different types of stress on individuals’ willingness to cooperate. I classify stress into two types, ego and external stress, based on the attribution of threat. Ego stressors, such as lack of skill, cause individuals to worry about their capabilities, posing a threat to goal achievement. External stressors, such as environmental uncertainty, cause individuals to worry about external factors beyond their control, which also may hinder goal achievement. In this paper, I provide evidence that ego stress increases cooperation, whereas external stress has the opposite effect. I argue that, although both types of stress induce anxiety, the meaning structures of anxiety differ significantly. Under ego stress, the possibility of failure is attributed to one’s capabilities. Ego stress motivates an individual to seek affiliations for joint protection and, therefore, increases cooperation. Under external stress, on the other hand, the possibility of failure is attributed to external factors. External stress motivates people to avoid risks, including the risk of being exploited by a partner, and, therefore, reduces cooperation.

This seminar is organised by the Erasmus Accounting Research Group.