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March 21, 2008

From NPR & Nature: Victors don't punish

NPR's All Things Considered from March 19, 2008 offers a story about a modification to the "prisoner's dilemma" game that psychologists have used to study human behavior. Their interpretation of the study is that nice guys finish first. The full report of the study is published in the journal Nature under the title: "Human Behavior: Punisher Pays". Nature still requires a subscription, or a university library affiliation to access the full text of their articles so I've linked to their editor's summary. Their interpretation is that players who punish recalcitrant or defecting collaborators don't score as highly in their game as do those who choose to leave the collaboration and find other collaborators.

The study is interesting in its broad outlines. The useful interpretations will have to take into account that the study looks at collaborative pairs, and that the study population were college students. It is possible to question if the study population was coerced; that is to say, "Were the students required to participate in the study as a part of their Psych 301 class?" If so, Would such coercion affect the outcome?

Posted by SWEAT at March 21, 2008 10:04 AM