Fast but not intuitive, slow but not reflective: Decision conflict drives reaction times in social dilemmas

A.M. Evans, K.D. Dillon, D.G, Rand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

121 Citations (Scopus)


When people have the chance to help others at a cost to themselves, are cooperative decisions driven by intuition or reflection? To answer this question, recent studies have tested the relationship between reaction times (RTs) and cooperation, reporting both positive and negative correlations. To reconcile this apparent contradiction, we argue that decision conflict (rather than the use of intuition vs. reflection) drives response times, leading to an inverted-U shaped relationship between RT and cooperation. Studies 1 through 3 show that intermediate decisions take longer than both extremely selfish and extremely cooperative decisions. Studies 4 and 5 find that the conflict between self-interested and cooperative motives explains individual differences in RTs. Manipulating conflictedness causes longer RTs and more intermediate decisions, and RTs mediate the relationship between conflict and intermediate decisions. Finally, Studies 6 and 7 demonstrate that conflict is distinct from reflection by manipulating the use of intuition (vs. reflection). Experimentally promoting reliance on intuition increases cooperation, but has no effects on decision extremity or feelings of conflictedness. In sum, we provide evidence that RTs should not be interpreted as a direct proxy for the use of intuitive or reflective processes, and dissociate the effects of conflict and reflection in social decision making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-966
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology-General
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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