Applying Cultural Evolution

Collective Action and Interdependence

Research team

Nichola Raihani, Principal Investigator
Alexander Stewart, Co-Investigator

Key information

Full title: Encouraging collective action via the cultural evolution of interdependence
Host institution: University College London (United Kingdom)
Research location: Western online participants

Project overview 

The most pressing challenges facing humanity require global cooperation, but people often focus their efforts at a local scale. Although “think global, act local” can work well for tackling some problems, other challenges inherently require investment in large-scale cooperative efforts. Finding ways to bolster support for global solutions to global problems may well be one of the defining challenges of our current era.

We want to understand the role of “interdependence” – the perception that our fortunes are linked to the fortunes of others, either locally or globally – in generating investment in global solutions. When interdependence is positive, people tend to believe that they all win or lose together. When interdependence is negative, they’re more likely to believe that others’ loss is their gain. We suggest that global-scale cooperation relies on perceptions of positive interdependence, and that when perceptions of interdependence are negative or indifferent, investment in global cooperative efforts will fail.

Members of a rowing crew are positively interdependent because they win or lose a race together
Niknakc, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We will test this idea by combining mathematical models of cultural attitudes with large behavioural experiments. We will ask when and how groups become positively interdependent with one another, and how perceptions of interdependence are shaped by global events such as pandemics or climate collapse. Our work will provide a theoretical and empirical understanding of the conditions that promote positive interdependence, and the risk factors that lead global cooperative efforts to devolve into zero-sum thinking.

Project contacts

If you would like to contact the project team, please email the grant management team in the first instance, at

Nichola Raihani: Website, Twitter
Alexander Stewart: Website, Twitter