ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 53 ›› Issue (1): 81-94.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2021.00081

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Co-experiencing the same negative emotional events promotes cooperation

MIAO Xiaoyan1, SUN Xin1, KUANG Yi1,2,3, WANG Zuojun1()   

  1. 1Department and Institute of Psychology, Ningbo University, Ningbo 315211, China
    2CAS Key Laboratory of Behavioral Science, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
    3Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2019-09-06 Published:2021-01-25 Online:2020-11-24
  • Contact: WANG Zuojun
  • Supported by:
    Project of Natural Science Foundation of Zhejiang Province(LY17C090001);Wang Kuancheng foundation of Ningbo University


Cooperation plays an essential role in the development and survival of humans. Previous research suggests that experiencing negative emotional events typically decreases cooperation. Yet the research has primarily focused on experiencing negative emotional events alone. People living in a social environment often co-experience negative emotional events with others. Less understood is the impact of co-experiencing the same negative events on interpersonal cooperation. The present research hypothesized that: 1) co-experiencing the same negative emotional events (i.e., failure) increases cooperation between co-experiencers compared with experiencing negative emotional events alone; 2) the need to belong mediates the relationship between those co-experiencing negative emotional events and their cooperation. Four experiments were conducted to examine the two hypotheses.
In Experiments 1-3, the negative emotional events were manipulated either by failing in a lottery (Experiment 1) or in the Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices (Experiment 2 and 3), and the cooperation was measured by a public goods game. The results of the three experiments showed that co-experiencing a negative emotional event promoted cooperation between the co-experiencers compared with experiencing the negative emotional event alone. Furthermore, to examine the underlying mechanism of this effect, three possible mediators, the need to belong, social bonds, and common in-group identity, were also measured in Experiment 2. The results showed that the need to belong, but not social bonds or common in-group identity, mediated the relationship between co-experiencing a negative emotional event (i.e., failure) and the promoted cooperation. In Experiment 3, the need to belong was manipulated rather than measured to further examine its effect on the increased cooperation between the co-experiencers. The results showed that when the need to belong was satisfied, the participants who co-experienced the negative emotional event did not behave more cooperatively than when they experienced the emotional event alone. Experiment 4 investigated whether people would be more willing to cooperate when they co-experienced the same negative emotional events compared with when they experienced different negative emotional events or when they experienced the negative emotional events alone. The results showed that only the participants who co-experienced the same negative emotional event, but not those who co-experienced a different negative emotional event, were more likely to cooperate than those who experienced the emotional event alone. The implication of the present findings on the formation of small groups and enhancing group cohesion was discussed.

Key words: co-experience, negative emotional events, cooperation, the need to belong