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Adderall to the top: a form of the prisoner’s dilemma

This website speaks of the high use of Adderall within academic settings. The reason for the high usage is that drugs such as Adderall increase one’s academic performance. At the same time, the drug also has side effects, which turns this situation into a proper prisoner’s dilemma.


my chart

The prisoner’s dilemma applies here because when one student uses Adderall while the others do not, his grade goes up. This negative effect on those who don’t use Adderall, assuming grading is done on a curve (as it usually is at Cornell), greatly increases. While not getting as high of grades, the mean is also raised on those who don’t use the drug. This effectively harms them more than if a curve was not in place (it’s also why I created such a large numerical difference in the chart). Although it all the numbers are arbitrary, it’s easy to see the huge change shown between taking Adderall and not taking it.  However, if both people take Adderall, then it’s actually suboptimal for both students. This is because they both have the effect of the drug making their payoff equal and low. This is because now neither of them has a true academic advantage; all they reap from Adderall are the negative health effects.  If both were to not use Adderall, they’d would be better off since now they are evenly matched and don’t have the negative health effects. Nevertheless, the dominant strategy of the situation turns out to be to take Adderall.


-Dr. Feel Good


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September 2012