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On being unpredictable and winning


De Dreu, Carsten K. W; Gross, Jörg; Arciniegas, Andrea; Hoenig, Laura C; Rojek-Giffin, Michael; Scheepers, Daan T (2024). On being unpredictable and winning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 126(3):369-389.

Abstract

In theory, it can be strategically advantageous for competitors to make themselves unpredictable to their opponents, for example, by variably mixing hostility and friendliness. Empirically, it remains open whether and how competitors make themselves unpredictable, why they do so, and how this conditions conflict dynamics and outcomes. We examine these questions in interactive attacker–defender contests, in which attackers invest to capture resources held and defended by their opponent. Study 1, a reanalysis of nine (un)published experiments (total N = 650), reveals significant cross-trial variability especially in proactive attacks and less in reactive defense. Study 2 (N = 200) shows that greater variability makes both attacker’s and defender’s next move more difficult to predict, especially when variability is due to occasional rather than (in)frequent extreme investments in conflict. Studies 3 (N = 27) and 4 (N = 106) show that precontest testosterone, a hormone associated with risk-taking and status competition, drives variability during attack which, in turn, increases sympathetic arousal in defenders and defender variability (Study 4). Rather than being motivated by wealth maximization, being unpredictable in conflict and competition emerges in function of the attacker’s desire to win “no matter what” and comes with significant welfare cost to both victor and victim.

Abstract

In theory, it can be strategically advantageous for competitors to make themselves unpredictable to their opponents, for example, by variably mixing hostility and friendliness. Empirically, it remains open whether and how competitors make themselves unpredictable, why they do so, and how this conditions conflict dynamics and outcomes. We examine these questions in interactive attacker–defender contests, in which attackers invest to capture resources held and defended by their opponent. Study 1, a reanalysis of nine (un)published experiments (total N = 650), reveals significant cross-trial variability especially in proactive attacks and less in reactive defense. Study 2 (N = 200) shows that greater variability makes both attacker’s and defender’s next move more difficult to predict, especially when variability is due to occasional rather than (in)frequent extreme investments in conflict. Studies 3 (N = 27) and 4 (N = 106) show that precontest testosterone, a hormone associated with risk-taking and status competition, drives variability during attack which, in turn, increases sympathetic arousal in defenders and defender variability (Study 4). Rather than being motivated by wealth maximization, being unpredictable in conflict and competition emerges in function of the attacker’s desire to win “no matter what” and comes with significant welfare cost to both victor and victim.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords:behavioral game theory, predator–prey dynamics, testosterone, sympathetic arousal
Language:English
Date:2024
Deposited On:24 Apr 2024 13:27
Last Modified:14 May 2024 07:59
Publisher:American Psychological Association
ISSN:0022-3514
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1037/pspa0000378
PubMed ID:38647439