Every product needs a process: unpacking joint commitment as a process across species

Adrian Bangerter*, Emilie Genty, Raphaela Heesen, Federico Rossano, Klaus Zuberbühler

*Corresponding author for this work

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Joint commitment, the feeling of mutual obligation binding participants in a joint action, is typically conceptualized as arising by the expression and acceptance of a promise. This account limits the possibilities of investigating fledgling forms of joint commitment in actors linguistically less well-endowed than adult humans. The feeling of mutual obligation is one aspect of joint commitment (the product), which emerges from a process of signal exchange. It is gradual rather than binary; feelings of mutual obligation can vary in strength according to how explicit commitments are perceived to be. Joint commitment processes are more complex than simple promising, in at least three ways. They are affected by prior joint actions, which create precedents and conventions that can be embodied in material arrangements of institutions. Joint commitment processes also arise as solutions to generic coordination problems related to opening up, maintaining and closing down joint actions. Finally, during joint actions, additional, specific commitments are made piecemeal. These stack up over time and persist, making it difficult for participants to disengage from joint actions. These complexifications open up new perspectives for assessing joint commitment across species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20210095
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1859
Early online date25 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sept 2022


  • Emotions
  • Mass Gatherings
  • Humans
  • Coordination
  • Adult
  • Joint action
  • Joint commitment


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