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The Folly of the Prisoner’s Dilemma

Everyone’s heard of the prisoner’s dilemma, it’s one of the first concepts students learn in game theory. Even if people that have not formally learned have probably heard of it many times in the course of their life. However, studies now say that it may be extremely misleading to people when making decisions and the prisoner’s dilemma’s do not illustrate the only “equilibria” where two “prisoner’s” are pitted against each other.

Researcher’s in UT Austin have found that different strategies exist and happen. These strategies are called zero-determinant strategies and are one sided strategies that dictate. One such strategy is called the dictator method where one opponents sets their opponent’s score in a certain range. Another such strategy is the extortionist method where one opponent manipulates the ratio between scores so that one opponent always has the higher rate. In this case X can always take the always-defect method so that both sides get minimum payoff, but any choice for self-benefit will result in a greater benefit for the manipulator.

Researchers from University of Pennsylvania have further looked into these strategies and they have discovered that zero-determinant strategies do not only belong to oppressors. They have found one strategy where a player may go for less than a fair share compared to the opponent so that cooperation is more likely.

These new studies show more depth and insight in how people’s natures affect payoffs and how situations may alter and shift away from the basic example of the prisoner’s dilemma.


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