The changes in cooperation among strangers in China: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of social dilemmas (1999~2019)
Abstract: Cooperation among strangers is a key feature of social capital which facilitates societies to effectively compete with other societies. Notably, cooperation among strangers does not remain permanent or stable within a society but can shift with changes in ecology and culture.
In the past few decades, China has experienced tremendous social changes, mainly manifested in rapid economic growth, rising urbanization level, more widespread higher education, and rapid development of the internet. Meanwhile, people’s residential mobility and social interaction scope has expanded. Acquaintance society has been shrinking while stranger society has been expanding. Interpersonal trust has declined and individualism has increased. However, little is known about whether cooperation (operationalized as cooperative behavior in social dilemmas) among strangers has shifted along with above societal changes within Chinese society. Thus, based on the history of experimental research on cooperation among young Chinese adults in situations involving conflicting interests (i.e., social dilemmas), this study meta-analyzed 254 studies conducted between 1999 and 2019 with 302 unique samples and effect sizes involving 29,249 participants to test for possible changes over time in cooperation among strangers.
We conducted meta-regression analyses applying a three-level mixed-effects meta-regression model and performed multiple imputation to handle missing data in our model. For all analyses, year of data collection was entered as the predictor, and the cooperation estimate as the outcome variable. In addition, we also simultaneously added the study characteristic variables (i.e., dilemma type, proportion of male participants, repetitions, group size, K index, communication, sanctions, and period of cooperation) as control variables to the meta-regression models to rule out the possibility that changes in cooperation are explained by study characteristics. Finally, we also calculated the magnitude of change in cooperation and reported the correlations between the sociocultural indicators and cooperation.
We found cooperation among strangers increased over time in Chinese society: The cooperation rate had increased from 0.33 in 1999 to 0.45 in 2019 after controlling for other variables. In addition, some societal indicators (e.g., societal wealth, urbanization level, higher education level, and internet penetration rate) measured 10 to 5 years prior to measures of cooperation were found to be positively associated with cooperation, suggesting that they may be potential societal underpinnings of increases in cooperation. The cooperative behavior among strangers in China and the United States shows a similar upward trend, but cooperation in Chinese society has a larger increase in a shorter period. These findings have important implications for boosting public confidence in solving present and future challenges.