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Common Fate and Cooperation


Explanations > Groups > Common Fate and Cooperation

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When people share a common fate, this is a strong motivating factor in getting them to cooperate.

The fate may be avoiding failure or achieving success. For all to collaborate, it must require each to contribute and for their effort (or lack of effort) to be visible to others in the group.


Armies train their troops by putting small groups in challenging situations where they have to collaborate to succeed, for example on mountain tops, with the task of all getting home together. Later in battle, the soldiers fight for one another more than for their country.

People with chronic illnesses often form groups by which they can share information and support one another.

In times of disaster and war, people tend to forget their smaller differences in collaborating to survive together.


The common fate gives people common goals in avoiding failure or achieving success together. In working together on these shared goals, they feel closer together, sharing identity and so forming interpersonal bonds.

Common fate is not always enough to get people to cooperate, even when the fate is highly significant. A very current question is one of the fate of mankind as threatened by over-population, climate change, food shortages and so on.

Collaboration decreases if people see the situation as a competitive 'zero sum' or 'I win, you lose', where for one to succeed another must fail. An example of this is where there are scarce resources that everyone needs.

Crises tend to increase cooperation as individuals have a immediate need and clear evidence that there is a common fate being shared by everyone around. This is also helped by social norms that one should help others in situations of great need.

Note: This is not the same as Common Fate in Gestalt Theory, which is about how we perceive things.

See also

Synchrony and Cooperation, Identity, Bonding principle


Jane Sell, Tony P. Love (2009), Common fate, crisis, and cooperation in social dilemmas, in Shane R. Thye, Edward J. Lawler (ed.) Altruism and Prosocial Behavior in Groups (Advances in Group Processes, Volume 26), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.53-79


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