How group composition affects cooperation in fixed networks: can psychopathic traits influence group dynamics?


Static networks have been shown to foster cooperation for specific cost –benefit ratios and numbers of connections across a series of interactions. At the same time, psychopathic traits have been discovered to predict defective behaviours in game theory scenarios. This experiment combines these two aspects to investigate how group cooperation can emerge when changing group compositions based on psychopathic traits. We implemented a modified version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game which has been demonstrated theoretically and empirically to sustain a constant level of cooperation over rounds. A sample of 190 undergraduate students played in small groups where the percentage of psychopathic traits in each group was manipulated. Groups entirely composed of low psychopathic individuals were compared with communities with 50% high and 50% low psychopathic players, to observe the behavioural differences at the group level. Results showed a significant divergence of the mean cooperation of the two conditions, regardless of the small range of participants’ psychopathy scores. Groups with a large density of high psychopathic subjects cooperated significantly less than groups entirely composed of low psychopathic players, confirming our hypothesis that psychopathic traits affect not only individuals’ decisions but also the group behaviour. This experiment highlights how differences in group composition with respect to psychopathic traits can have a significant impact on group dynamics, and it emphasizes the importance of individual characteristics when investigating group behaviours

Royal Society Open Science