Intuition Rather Than Deliberation Determines Selfish and Prosocial Choices

Bence Bago, Jean-François Bonnefon, and Wim De Neys


Human interactions often involve a choice between acting selfishly (in ones' own interest) and acting prosocially (in the interest of others). Fast-and-slow models of prosociality posit that people intuitively favour one of these choices (the selfish choice in some models, the prosocial choice in other models), and need to correct this intuition through deliberation in order to make the other choice. We present 7 studies that force us to reconsider this longstanding “corrective” dual process view. Participants played various economic games in which they had to choose between a prosocial and a selfish option. We used a two-response paradigm in which participants had to give their first, initial response under time-pressure and cognitive load. Next, participants could take all the time they wanted to reflect on the problem and give a final response. This allowed us to identify the intuitively generated response that preceded the final response given after deliberation. Results consistently showed that both prosocial and selfish responses were predominantly made intuitively rather than after deliberate correction. Pace the deliberate correction view, the findings indicate that making prosocial and selfish choices does typically not rely on different types of reasoning modes (intuition vs deliberation) but rather on different types of intuitions.


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Published in

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol. 150, n. 6, 2021, pp. 1081–1094