Symmetry and the Illusion of Control


The existence of cooperation in the face of temptation to free ride requires explanation. We discuss two psychological phenomena, “symmetry” and “the illusion of control,” which we believe underlie the “what if everyone acted that way” type of reasoning used in some types of cooperation. We provide a simple model of how these lead to cooperation. We also show how some bizarre causal beliefs, such as effect preceding cause, can follow from these phenomena. We look at some existing evidence for these phenomena and report on our studies which support the model.


This paper was written by Jeffrey Goldberg, LÝvia Markˇczy and Larry Zahn. We've had many useful conversations with others who have commented on earlier – often much earlier – drafts.

What is available here

Bibliographic information

  Author =   {Jeffrey Goldberg and L\'{\i}via Mark\'oczy and Larry Zahn},
  Title =    {Symmetry and the Illusion of Control as Bases for
              Cooperative Behavior},
  Year =     {2004},
  Journal = {Rationality \& Society},
  Volume = 16,
  note = {(forthcoming)},
  url = {}

This paper has circulated under other titles including, “Time travel, mind-control and other everyday phenomena required for cooperation”.

Related papers

Several of LÝvia's other papers may be closely related to this, including:

Multiple motives for cooperation
Describes my over all approach to cooperative behavior.
Altruists aren't always fair and the fair aren't always altruistic
A detailed examination of several motives for electricity conservation during the California electricity shortage.

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