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Even though human social behavior has received considerable scientific attention in the last decades, its cognitive underpinnings are still poorly understood. Applying a dual-process framework to the study of social preferences, we show in two studies that individuals with a more reflective/deliberative cognitive style, as measured by scores on the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), are more likely to make choices consistent with “mild” altruism in simple non-strategic decisions. Such choices increase social welfare by increasing the other person's payoff at very low or no cost for the individual. The choices of less reflective individuals (i.e., those who rely more heavily on intuition), on the other hand, are more likely to be associated with either egalitarian or spiteful motives. We also identify a negative link between reflection and choices characterized by “strong” altruism, but this result holds only in Study 2. Moreover, we provide evidence that the relationship between social preferences and CRT scores is not driven by general intelligence. We discuss how our results can reconcile some previous conflicting findings on the cognitive basis of social behavior.


This article was originally published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, volume 9, in 2015. DOI: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00287

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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