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Team Reasoning: How People Think in Groups

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Huge swathes of literature in economics, philosophy and evolutionary anthropology are devoted to the supposed problem of explaining how groups manage to co-operate in such scenarios as the tragedy of the commons, the prisoner’s dilemma, the stag hunt, and so on. There are many suggested solutions, appealing to iterated games, evolutionary stable strategies, and other ingenious devices. But the whole literature is based on a false premise—that group actions result from psychological processes in which each agent works out an answer to ‘what should I do?’ In truth, however, individual humans find it just as natural to ask ‘what should WE do?’, with all then playing their parts when an answer is reached. This kind of ‘team reasoning’ makes the cooperation in the standard problems trivial.
Game theorists think it’s a cheat. They insist that group actions are nothing but a bunch of individual actions, and that individuals are designed by evolution to further their own interests. But they are missing the point. Given that the best way to further your own interests is often to think as a team, it would be odd if evolution hadn’t favoured a proximal psychological mechanism that makes it natural for humans to team-reason.
From a descriptive point of view, team thinking is no less prevalent among humans than individual reasoning. And from a normative perspective, it is surely just as rational to start with ‘what should WE do?’ as with ‘what should I do?’.


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