Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 118–125 | Cite as

Facial electromyography reveals dissociable affective responses in social and non-social cooperation

  • Alexander Soutschek
  • André Weinreich
  • Torsten Schubert
Original Paper


While economic standard theory explains cooperation in terms of rational decision-making, empirical studies suggest that humans have social preferences for cooperating with others. We investigated the specificity of these social preferences for interactions with human, relative to non-human, agents in a prisoner’s dilemma game. To obtain insights into emotional processes during cooperation, we measured activity of the corrugator supercilii muscle as indicator of spontaneous emotional responding during cooperation. After unreciprocated defection (free-riding), participants switched more often to a cooperative strategy and showed increased corrugator activity (suggesting more negative emotional responses) when playing with a human relative to a computer. This suggests that humans have a specific preference for cooperating with other humans and that cooperation may be promoted by unpleasant affect in response to the outcome of one’s own “free-riding”.


Prisoner’s dilemma Prosocial behaviour Electromyography Corrugator Affect 



We are grateful to Nadja Wiebe, Angelique Zessin, and Antonia Papadakis for help with data collection.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicting financial interests.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained by all participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research, Department of EconomicsUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Institute for PsychologyHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyMartin-Luther UniversityHalleGermany

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