I'm trying to read up on the phenomena where one person's desire/motivation to do a certain task or obligation within a system of process is influenced by whether he thinks others in that process are also doing their job.

For examples:

  • "John's willingness to report a crime to the police is low because he feels the cops in his town are incompetent. He thinks his efforts will just be wasted"

  • "Mike's desire to recycle is high because he sees how serious the city council are in collecting and separating the waste"

Currently I'm thinking Ryan & Deci's Self-determination Theory might fit to explain this (the competence part or the 3 SDT pillars), but SDT only concerns with the individual's sense of achievement/competence. My angle is more like "I will do [won't do] my part because I know someone else down the line will do [won't do] their part to achieve the objective", so there is a social/systems element to it.

I'm also thinking maybe it's literature around scepticism, but that concept is closer to James Randi-esque 'scientific scepticism' rather than what I'm going for. Pessimism doesn't really work as well, since it deals mostly with personal/internal factors as opposed to external..

Any ideas what theory/literature talks about this?

Edit: answered my own question below.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, welcome to CogSci and what an amazing first question. Just an idea. Could it simply be explained by expected reward/utility? You know others won't do something with your efforts, and therefore you decide to not waste any. Conversely, you know down the line people are actually trying to make things better if you do your best, so you see the reward/utility of your effort. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ I am very interested on this question, on what may someone give as a literature reference however, I would like to state a point. From my perspective the answer on this topic can very broad because has to do with the development of the cortex brain and how one might experience a series of states in order to develop the particular emotion for an subject. Moreover one my claim the hypothesis of all emotions are initially developed from primal instincts and the evolve accordingly with the different layers of the brain(maybe something like Triune's brain theory). $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 10:10
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    $\begingroup$ AH good to hear. You could post is as an answer to your own question. You'll get some rep points and other people may find the answer more easily :) $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2016 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ If you solved your issue, could you write an answer to your own question? That's the convention here at this site $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Jun 28, 2016 at 7:13
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    $\begingroup$ @Christiaan ok, just done. Thanks for the kind guidance on etiquette. $\endgroup$
    – BenGurion
    Jun 29, 2016 at 3:43

1 Answer 1


I've found if not an answer then at least a good starting point to this.

The theory of trust in management literature explains that in a contractual situation, the actors may be motivated to fulfil their end of the bargain based on the trust they place to the actor on the opposite side. Specifically, there's two types of trust:

  • Competence trust = perception that the other party is able to fulfil their end of the contract.

  • Goodwill trust = perception that the other party will fulfil their end of the contract.

Even though this discusses it in a formal contract setting, I feel this applies to 'social contract' context as well, i.e part of why a person is willing to spend effort on something like fill up tax reports is because he trusts that his effort will not be reciprocated by the tax agency who will then handle the money and make use of it properly.

The paper is here: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=


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