Cooperation and Self-Esteem

Self-esteem plays a key role in cooperation through sensitivity to unfairness.

Cooperation is essential for today’s society. Individuals cooperate when they pay personal costs to help collective interests. However, it is not obvious that individuals will cooperate in all circumstances, because collective interests do not always coincide with personal interests. One of the factors that guides cooperation is procedural fairness, which refers to a person’s perceived fairness of the procedures used to disperse resources. In some studies, procedural fairness positively estimated willingness to support political authorities and collaboration with law enforcement.

Guided by prior findings that self-esteem boosts sensitivity to procedural unfairness, Sun et al. (2021) attempted to search for the moderating impact of self-esteem on the association among procedural fairness and cooperative behaviour. The authors found that fair or just procedures (compared to unfair or unjust procedures) resulted in boosted willingness to cooperate inside of a team. Additionally, procedural fairness may also determine a person’s cooperation in an organisational setting. Either fair or just procedures (compared to unfair or unjust procedures) resulted in boosted willingness to cooperate inside of the team.

Research has shown that low-self-esteem persons (vs. high-self-esteem persons) are not likely to behave with antisocial acts, such as hostility and aggression. As cooperation may be thought to be the opposite of antisocial behaviour, these findings might suggest that persons with low self-esteem cooperate more often than those individuals with high self-esteem. Furthermore, fairness perception of an unfair procedure differs in persons with different degrees of self-esteem. Unlike low-self-esteem persons, high-self-esteem persons are likely to believe they do well in most circumstances and believe they deserve fair treatment; as a result, they are more sensitive to unfairness.

Additionally, those with high self-esteem (compared to low self-esteem) have been found to show more hostility, greater turnover intention, and lower behavioural commitment against unfair treatment. Based on these findings, Sun et al. (2021) anticipated that high-self-esteem persons would perceive more unfairness when taking part in an unfair procedure. This perception of unfairness made those with high self-esteem less likely to cooperate. On the other hand, low-self-esteem persons tend to accept the unfairness and behave as cooperatively as they do in fair situations, as their primary concern is evading social exclusion.

As a result, Sun et al. (2021) estimated that self-esteem should moderate the impact of procedural fairness on cooperative behaviour. In particular, procedural fairness will endorse cooperative behaviour among persons with high self-esteem; though, this impact will be decreased or even eliminated among persons with low self-esteem.

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Sun, Q., Xiong, Y., Guo, S., Wang, X., & Liu, Y. (2021). Procedural fairness predicts cooperative behaviour for high-self-esteem individuals but not for low-self-esteem individuals. International Journal of Psychology : Journal international de psychologie, 56(2), 266–275.