The effect of attachment and environmental manipulations on cooperative behavior in the prisoner's dilemma game

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


External organisations

  • School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, United Kingdom.
  • Psychology Department, Durham University, Durham, United Kingdom.


Cooperation and competition are vital for human survival and for social progress. In this study we examine the impact of external (environmental) and internal (individual differences) factors on the tendency to cooperate or compete in social conflicts. To this end, 53 young adults played blocks of the repeated Prisoner's Dilemma Game with each other or with a computer. The environmental context was manipulated across blocks, by introducing uncertainty, randomly losing or gaining money. Individual differences were assessed by participants' attachment style. We found that participants cooperated more when randomly losing money compared to when randomly winning or in the neutral condition. Moreover, in a negative uncertain environment, individuals with higher anxious and avoidant attachment styles cooperated less. The above effects were only observed when playing against a human and not a computer. Overall, the findings highlight the dependency of cooperative behavior on the context as driven by external and internal factors.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0205730
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2018