Present generation’s negotiators realize their interests at the cost of future generations

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Decision-makers often apply negotiations as a powerful and pervasive means to solve their conflicts over natural resources. The resulting agreements have not only immediate effects on the parties currently concerned, but also dramatic delayed consequences for future generations. Consequently, negotiators are simultaneously involved in co-occurring conflicts with (1) their present counterparts and (2) future generations. The resulting interdependence makes it challenging to find efficient and fair agreements. We investigated to what extent the present generation's negotiators realize the future generation's interests and which barriers they encounter. Across five interactive and simulated experiments (N = 524 participants), the present generation's negotiators reached agreements with significantly better outcomes for themselves in the present than for the future generation. This finding occurred, (1) when the present generation's negotiators had to bear costs to realize the future generation's interests (i.e., barrier: self-oriented tradeoffs; Studies 1a & 1b), (2) when present negotiators only needed to consider and realize the future generation's preferences without bearing costs (i.e., barrier: tendency to ignore, Studies 2a & 2b) and (3) even persisted when the consequences for future generations became more severe (Study 3). Additionally, we explored resource scarcity as a moderating variable and found multifaceted effects on the present and the future generation's outcomes. The present research is among the first to disentangle the co-occurring conflicts arising in present generation's negotiations with an impact on future others and to experimentally investigate the independent barriers to realizing the future generation's interests. It also provides departure points for interventions aimed at realizing the future generation's interests.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102126
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 01.11.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation ( MA 8577/1-1 ) awarded to JMM, the Volkswagen Foundation awarded to RT and JMM, and by a seed money grant from Leuphana University awarded to JMM. The funding institutions were not involved in conducting the research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd

    Research areas

  • Psychology - Barriers, Future generation, Ignorance, Intergenerational conflict, Negotiation, Self-oriented tradeoffs