社会困境是指个体理性导致集体非理性这样的情境（Hardin, 1968; Messick & Brewer, 1983）。严重的社会现实促使越来越多的研究者关注社会困境问题，已有研究从个体差异、任务结构（决策结构和社会结构）以及知觉和策略等方面探讨社会困境中合作行为的影响因素，并提出相应的解决策略。
Social dilemmas are defined as such situations in which short-term individual and long-term collective interests are at odds (Hardin, 1968; Messick & Brewer, 1983). Severe social problems lead more and more researchers to pay attention to the issue of social dilemmas. Until now, research has widely examined the factors influencing cooperation in social dilemmas, and provided solutions to social dilemmas.
In the need of theory development, previous research generally simplified the situation of realistic social dilemmas. Therefore, few studies have explored the issue of cooperation in social dilemmas in an intergroup situation. On the other hand, there has been little empirical attention for such issues in countries outside of United States and Western Europe. To meet this gap, the present study grounded itself in social identity theories and examined the effect of unequal group status on behavioral decision making in social dilemmas. To this end, the study designed three experiments to examine how individuals with different group status response psychologically and behaviorally to cooperation in intragroup and intergroup social dilemmas.
In experiment 1, the study examined how independent and interdependent self- construals affect cooperative behavior in an intragroup social dilemma. The results showed that when individuals were primed with interdependent (as opposed to independent) self-construal, they consistently contributed highly, regardless of context manipulation. In contrast, those primed with independent self-construal contributed less in the investment game but only when placed in a context where group members were encouraged to think about their individual (versus shared) fate. Results supported the idea that independent self-construal in a low interdependent context produces the most competitive behavior and that this effect was partially mediated by the feeling of interaction within a group.
In experiment 2, the study examined how the effect of group status on different level of cooperation in a nested social dilemma was moderated by individual status, and what roles ingroup and superordinate identifications played in the above effect. Results found that individuals in higher status groups tended to allocate more to private account and less to subgroup account compared to those in lower status group; individuals in higher status groups allocated more to higher level accounts than to private account, whereas those in lower status acted in a reverse way. The results indicated that group status (compared to individual status) exerted a positive influence on behavioral decision making in social dilemmas, with higher group status contributing more to subgroup as well as collective interests. Results also found that the effect of group status and/or individual status on cooperation in social dilemmas was moderated by sex. As for individual status, results showed that the effect of individual status on subgroup interest was significantly moderated only by the combination of higher ingroup identification and lower superordinate identification.
In experiment 3, the study explored how group stability and cognitive categorization interactively influenced the relationship between group status and behavioral decision making in a social dilemma. Results did not support the prediction that group status and stability interactively affected behavioral decision-making in social dilemmas. However, it was found that this relationship was moderated by which level individuals categorized themselves at. When categorization at the individual level was salient, individuals in high status group contributed more to subgroup account than those in low status group if they perceived a stable status hierarchy; whereas they contributed more to private account and less to collective account if they perceived that the status was instable. On the other hand, when categorization at the subgroup level was salient, individuals in high status group contributed less to collective account than those in low status group if they perceived that the status was stable; whereas they contributed less to private account and more to subgroup account if they perceived an instable status relation.
In summary, the present study suggests that cooperation with ingroup forms the basis of social harmony, and higher status for everyone in any given group is a necessary for social development. On the other hand, individuals in higher status group tend to be more selfish once they realize that their current status hierarchy is unstable. However, activating their collective identity will to some degree increase the level of their cooperation with the collective. The study thus provides psychological explanations on how to construct group harmony and management suggestions on how to solve social conflicts.