Vote Now on the Prisoner's Dilemma Contest

We recently posted a contest, asking readers to choose the one question they’d ask if picking a partner to play the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

I did not expect this contest to generate more than 350 replies. Picking the single best out of 350 seemed impossible, so I thought we should winnow it down to the Top 5 and ask you to vote on the best.

But I happened to be out at the University of Chicago last week, and ran into someone who I realized would do a much better winnowing job than me. In fact, he’s probably more qualified to do so than just about anyone else in the world.

It’s our friend John List, a top-drawer experimental economist, whom you’ve read about on the blog before. I think you’ll agree that John’s explanations for why he chose what he chose are fascinating and illuminating. Thanks to all of you for participating and especially to John for his contribution. And don’t forget to vote.

What’s the Best Question to Select Your Prisoner’s Dilemma Partner
A Guest Post by John List

When Stephen recruited me for this chore, the marching orders he gave were simple: select the 5 best responses to his Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD) query.

Sounds simple, but actually making the choices was far from easy. The group here is a sophisticated lot that covered a great deal of ground and provided an array of novel responses. Nevertheless, at the cost of leaving out several worthy posts, I have narrowed the list to my Top 5. I attempted to include queries within the realm of “what is the best question to parse individual types,” to “what is the best way to coerce people,” to just outright fun queries.

A first rule in my family is that “If mama ain’t happy, nobody is happy,” so I included my wife Jen List‘s question, No. 114, in the Top 5:

“How old are you?”

Beyond familial ties, I like this response because it shows evidence of being a good consumer of the economics literature. For instance, in my own research I have found that age is importantly correlated to play in this class of games.

When analyzing outcomes from a game show called Friend or Foe, where players are playing the two-person PD game live while staring into each other’s eyes, I found that mature contestants tend to cooperate much more than younger ones. This is the case regardless of their partner’s age.

In a second paper, “Young, Selfish, and Male: Field Evidence of Social Preferences,” I conduct a field experiment that uses an anonymous n-player PD game.

The results on age and cooperation were quite similar and have been replicated in more recent economic experiments as well. For instance, Gächter, et al. (2004) found that older people are much more likely to perceive others to be helpful and fair, and, as a result, they are more likely to act cooperatively themselves.

Post #288, jrrd, gets at something similar as does post #343, Sarah, so I will work to convince Da Freaks to hand out extra schwag if this entry wins!

The second finalist provides a query in a similar spirit, but involves a type of “treatment” variable more in the spirit of indoctrination — post #342, G. Owen Schaefer:

“What is the number of ethics courses you’ve taken, minus the number of economics courses you’ve taken?”

Owen provides supporting documentation here.

One will readily learn from this literature that much of the research that examines differences in cooperativeness between economists and non-economists suffers from selection issues. That is, people who chose to become economists may do so because they were born or raised with a slant towards self-interestedness (another interesting question in and of itself!).

Some studies, however, have produced tentative evidence that economics training itself has effects, by comparing behavior among freshman and senior economics students (here, for example).

I should note that many others on the blog were also tuned into this type of query (e.g., #11, Craig, #129, Allison, #159, Cyrus).

The third finalist — post #268, Joe — goes about the differentiation in a unique manner by asking about the famous example used in the original Beautiful Mind movie about Nash‘s life:

“Given that you are in a bar, would you prefer to pursue the most attractive person in the bar, or would your efforts focus on someone less attractive?”

This seemingly superficial question gets at the following dilemma: if a group of young men are sitting in a bar and a group of women walk in, where one of them is particularly attractive — is it an optimal strategy for all of the young men to pursue the most beautiful woman? As Nash’s character reasons in the movie:

“If we all go after the blond we block each other. Not a single one of us is going to get her. So then we go for her friends. They will all give us the cold shoulder because nobody likes to be second choice. What if no one goes for the blond and we don’t insult the other girls? That’s the only way we win.”

To be fair, this is not exactly what the PD game is about but I was persuaded by the post’s originality. In fact, the one-shot PD game discussed in this post has what is called a “dominant strategy” to testify.

That is, regardless of what the other person does, it is always in your best interest to defect, or in this example, testify.

To see this most clearly, make a 2×2 matrix with your choices as the row entries (testify or remain silent) and the other person’s as the column entries. Insert the payoffs in terms of years in jail and you can see in a one-shot PD game that it is always in your best interest to testify. This is of course the crux of dilemma.

In fact, this famous example from the movie did not even provide a non-cooperative equilibrium to the game that Nash played that night (I fully suspect that night at the pub was made up altogether, but that is for a different blog post).

In the movie, all of the guys chose the marginal women as Nash directed, leaving the most physically attractive woman to seemingly go home alone. That certainly is not an equilibrium — if Nash played his own non-cooperative equilibrium concept, he would have changed his mind in this case and gone home with the most attractive woman!

In this manner, the movie was off in that it missed the essence of a non-cooperative equilibrium. Disappointing in and of itself, but enough of that, let’s move on.

The fourth entry is of the coercive spirit and is provided by post #257, Charles:

“What is the name and address of your most cherished family member?”

There were several entries of this form — posters noting mafia connections (#21, #48), contract killers (#316), rapists (#124), passing soap (#233), sexual molestation (#229), people’s mothers (#195); even Klondike Bars (#240) were mentioned.

But this particular entry induced the most cooperative spirit from me. Maybe it’s the family thing coming back to haunt me.

Finally, the fifth entry was given first in post #147, Colin:

“Do you read Freakonomics?”

This, of course, can serve as a useful question to parse individual types, but also might be important in its own right. Who wants to go to prison with someone who has not read Freakonomics? Recall that if you both testify you will be sent to jail for 5 years, so why not spend it with a fellow Freakonomics reader? I can think of much less desirable company.

So there you have it. Apologies to those I left off the list, and congrats to those who made it. As they say here in Chicago, vote early and vote often — and don’t be afraid to bring a few of your dead friends and relatives to the polls.

So here are your five choices:

1. “How old are you?”

2. “What is the number of ethics courses you’ve taken, minus the number of economics courses you’ve taken?”

3. “Given that you are in a bar, would you prefer to pursue the most attractive person in the bar, or would your efforts focus on someone less attractive?”

4. “What is the name and address of your most cherished family member?”

5. “Have you read Freakonomics?”

Whichever choice gets the most votes in the comments section within 48 hours of this posting (barring obvious fraud) will receive her/his choice of Freakonomics schwag.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 195


  1. jim says:

    #2

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  2. Mark says:

    I vote for #2, “”What is the number of ethics courses you’ve taken, minus the number of economics courses you’ve taken?”. On a side note: are we stipulating that the questions will be answered truthfully? It seems unlikely that anyone would respond honestly to #4.

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  3. Zeke says:

    Its a tough decision between 2&4 but I’m going to have to say 2.

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  4. ber says:

    #3

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  5. Diversity says:

    3. The anserer would not see what you were getting at, and his/her response would not be modified.

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  6. Wes says:

    Vote #2.

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  7. J Rodham says:

    #3

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  8. cchjd says:

    If they have to answer honestly, then #4. The perceived threat to loved ones is always the best assurance of silence. I doubt the Mafia ever asked potential prosecutorial witnesses “What is the number of ethics courses you’ve taken, minus the number of economics courses you’ve taken?” as part of their coercion technique.

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  9. Joel says:

    #4

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  10. Roland says:

    #2,
    sweet! parsing out non-economists AND invoking a rational vs. ethical behaviour dichotomy in those who know the game!

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  11. Eric H says:

    #2

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  12. CJ says:

    #4

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  13. Silas says:

    #4

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  14. Mike In Tennessee says:

    #4 by a mile.

    Why do you need predictions when you have insurance?

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  15. sara says:

    #2

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  16. Sebastian says:

    #2 -
    though I’ll say I liked the strategy of asking a rather techy econ question better than just asking about the number of classes, but I guess that’s a matter of taste.

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  17. Robin says:

    #2

    I’d also like to point out that John List is a bit of an aptonym in this context. :)

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  18. Xitch13 says:

    #6 and I know where all of you live

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  19. Hoosier Paul says:

    Regarding “A Beautiful Mind,” I’ve always thought that Nash played it all wrong. He should have kept his mouth shut, let everyone else go after the blond, and then gone after the best of the rest.

    This has two advantages over the type of coordinated strategy he advocated:

    1. He is guaranteed to get first dibs on whichever woman he finds most attractive (minus the blonde).

    2. He makes himself more appealing to her by flattering her ego (i.e., “Wow, ALL of his friends went after Peggy Sue, but he chose ME!”)

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  20. andrew says:

    #2

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  21. Craig says:

    #2, that being the closest to my original question (#11).

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  22. Don't ask my age says:

    #1. The other questions may seem so obvious to the partner why such the question is ask, that the partner might lie. I’m thinking your partner may less likely lie when asked about his/her age, but then again doesn’t everybody lie about their age?

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  23. Nat says:

    Whats with the aptonym? A list of the top 5 by John List?

    Oh, and #1

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  24. Claudia says:

    Definitely #2

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  25. Derek says:

    #4

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  26. teeny says:

    2 takes the cake

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  27. Simon says:

    #1

    Age’s relationship to shared culture is important. Also, as a crazily cooperative Econ Grad student I take offence at the thought that all Econ people are selfish. Other-regarding preferences for the win!

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  28. kala says:

    #2

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  29. Mercutio.Mont says:

    #4.

    Doesn’t matter whether the answer is honest or not, as the purpose of the questions is purely rhetorical.

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  30. Jay says:

    #3

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  31. Nicholas Weaver says:

    Having missed the original: Is it single round or multiround?

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  32. Will Wilkinson says:

    This is really uselessly underspecified. We are not told what the candidate players incentives are. Do their options become better of worse if selected for the PD. Unless we know that, we have no clue as to their incentive to answer truthfully or at all. Asking and answering is an independent game of coordination. Simply stipulating that they must answer truthfully saps the experiments of any real interest. That would be tantamount to simply stipulating that people in PDs cooperate. If the thought experiment requires stipulating that and then taking the stipulation away, it’s pretty silly.

    If the candidate PD players need not answer truthfully, then the questioner should be trying to signal his or her cooperativeness, not just trying to elicit useful information about the candidate players. In that context #4 is basically the stupidest thing you could ask. “How can I help you?” would be a much better question.

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  33. kujo76 says:

    #4 is the best. Worst case scenario, it’s five years for both, but the chances are greatest here for you to go free. If the other prisoner gets to ask a question, if he/she does, then a 6 month each scenario is even likely.

    You do have to keep in mind that after this prisoner gets out of jail in this situation, you would likely have a hit on your head, potentially even if you decided to keep quiet yourself.

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  34. Michael Rudolph says:

    #2

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  35. Paul says:

    #4 – specifically “What would you do for a Klondike bar”

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  36. Quintus says:

    #3 wins because it actually tests their reasoning a bit. #2 and #5 might test the same thing but they *assume* the person learned something in their economics education, and they could also fail if the person picked the PD up elsewhere (like I did). #1 and #4 are more risky.

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  37. Andrew says:

    #1

    Since #2 doesn’t make sense (chances are your fellow criminal isn’t college educated, so the answer will be totally uninformative, even if they are being honest) and #3 is vague (maybe the person figures they’d have an easier shot with a less attractive girl).

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  38. David says:

    #3

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  39. Kevin says:

    #3

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  40. larry says:

    3

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  41. ms says:

    #3

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  42. Donny Copeland says:

    John, good to see you making an appearance on the blog!

    *3*

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  43. Dave says:

    #4 It changes the game. If the other person fails to release that information, you know they are going to rat you out. If they do, the perceived penalty for non-cooperation is high (assuming you are credible) Rough quote from a mob lawyer ‘my client never discussed any of his co-conspirators’ This guy went to jail for years rather than try to reduce his sentence by cooperating.

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  44. Marcus Lynn says:

    #4…not #2…most people have had neither type of classes and you will have wasted your 1 question.

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  45. Jordan says:

    #1

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  46. rich says:

    3

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  47. Mike says:

    #3, definitely the most thought-provoking

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  48. Jorge says:

    #4

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  49. dan p says:

    #1 – who wants to spend their ‘golden years’ in jail?

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  50. mike says:

    #2

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  51. Romain says:

    #2

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  52. Mac says:

    I vote #4, because it’s the question which most likely generates an useful answer.

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  53. intricatenick says:

    #3

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  54. KevinQ says:

    Vote #4 – Or I’ll hunt down one of your most cherished family members.

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  55. Bruno says:

    Several things to consider.
    If the other suspect is forced to answer the question truthfully then #4 is the obvious answer.
    But the problem is that this is adding a punishment that is not considered in the the original payoffs, so the “real” game may not even be a PD.
    #3 is bad because there’s no right anwer even from the economic point of view, we don’t know how atractive or smooth talker the guy is.
    #2 is probably useless because chances are he never took any econ or ethics courses.
    #5 same as above.
    #1 is a good question. Considering that #4 changes the whole structure of the game, #1 is the best question among the 5.

    If he’s not forced then things get very complicated, the questions would be usednot only for information obut to create some sort of empathy among the suspects. For example, if it all took place in NY, this would be a good question
    ” Besides Stephon Marbury adn Eddy Curry, who were the worst Knicks players the last season?”

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  56. Thomas Orange says:

    As no ground rules have been specified, I take issue with several of the questions.

    1. “How old are you?”

    This is my vote.

    2. “What is the number of ethics courses you’ve taken, minus the number of economics courses you’ve taken?”

    What is the likelihood that any of the 3 criminals has taken an ethics course, much less gone to college? Furthermore, who is to say that those who have not gone to college don’t understand the basic rule on the streets is not to talk?

    3. “Given that you are in a bar, would you prefer to pursue the most attractive person in the bar, or would your efforts focus on someone less attractive?”

    I don’t understand how either choice gives a surefire answer to the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Could anyone elaborate?

    4. “What is the name and address of your most cherished family member?”

    How could this question be answered truthfully?

    5. “Have you read Freakonomics?”

    Again, what are the chances that even one of your prisoner’s has read this book? If it comes back negative 3/3, you don’t have a follow up question to judge whether or not any of them understand game theory.

    So in short, I don’t think these answers were the “best” answers, maybe interesting ones, but not any I would choose to make sure I don’t get screwed in prison.

    My vote : #1

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  57. Rob says:

    1. How old are you?

    I’m assuming this person is randomly selected from the population, and that they are free to refuse to take part after the question.

    So 2 (ethics vs economics courses) is out, because a large number of people will not have done courses in either (sorry, Steve)
    3. (person in bar) is out because while that might work for male economists, I doubt that it would work for women, so you have no reliable data for 50% of your sample
    4. (who is your most cherished family member?) You’ll have no partners! Seriously, would you take part in an experiment if the experimenter asked this?
    5. Have you read Freakonomics? Too uninformative – its a popular book, but still most people haven’t read it (sorry guys)

    So 1 is best because you get something informative on everyone, and you don’t scare anyone away.

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  58. Erik says:

    #1

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  59. Brent says:

    #3

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  60. Chris S says:

    #4 is my vote

    Thanks for the insight into the top 5 answers.

    –Commentary–

    #2 #3 and #5 are good questions academically/theoretically but have very poor real world application.

    #2 is not practical since most people have taken neither an ethics course nor an economics course or if they have taken a course it would unlikely be to any significant degree that would inform your decision. This question may be helpful if you were playing PD only with people on this list or college/grad students (a minority of the population)

    #3 is subject to the person overthinking the question. The other person may have several motivations for pursuing the most attractive person or not. Do they have poor self-esteem, have they been burned in the past, etc. They are not going to analyze it the same way as the next person.

    Same with #5. Not to be insulting but even with are respectable 3+ million copies of Freakonomics out there, this question would be unlikely to given you new information since the majority of 6 billion people on the planet would say no.

    Thanks again

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  61. BT says:

    #2

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  62. Twist says:

    I vote for #4 but the variation of it.

    “Do you know that I know the address of your most cherished relative?”

    or

    “Do you know that I can get the address of you most cherished relative?”

    This is a question that can be understood on all levels.

    #3 could be misunderstood as a question and a response.

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  63. Brad says:

    4

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  64. Anne says:

    number 3

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  65. Jeremy Clark says:

    Initially I am thinking none of the above.

    This is an example of a screening game where you are attempting to sort people likely to cooperate from those likely not to. However, since there is nothing compelling the prisoner to tell you the truth, its also an example of cheap talk.

    Take example 1. If its true that older individuals are more likely to cooperate and the prisoner knows that, then they will lie and say they are older than they are. If this lulls you into considering cooperation, you are actually worst off now then when you had no information.

    All other answers proceed the same way. If the questions truly screen prisoners, then a prisoner will lie to make you more likely to do something foolish (cooperate).

    There is also a danger that in asking a complex question designed to screen prisoners that you will actually signal something about yourself–that you know the game theory behind the prisoner’s dilemma and thus are likely to defect. If someone asked me #3, I sure wouldn’t think they’d ever cooperate with me.

    If I have to pick one, I’d go with #4 because its so ridiculous that the prisoner would answer truthfully that they might think me irrational enough to defect.

    If the contest was still open, I’d ask an innocuous question in a foreign language since those who don’t know it, can’t fake an answer, and those who understand it and respond will share a sense of community with me and thus may be more likely to cooperate.

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  66. Jason says:

    #3

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  67. Victor Prometeo L. Frankenstein says:

    #5 >:!

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  68. JD says:

    #1

    #4 is by far the worst choice. No one in their right mind would answer truthfully, and you would end up exactly where you left off.

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  69. Andy says:

    #3

    I agree that #4 is the worst choice.

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  70. accident says:

    4

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  71. Charles says:

    Don’t miss the power of passing information contained in #4 as well as the potential to receive it. The person doesn’t even have to answer for it to be effective. We have come to an understanding.

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  72. Kinglink says:

    #4 but sorry they all are poor.

    There’s no incentive to answer any of those honestly. In fact almost all of them would get a meaningless answer by many people, and if the other person is an intelligent criminal, you’ll likely get a response that you want to hear and in the end get ratted out anyways.

    #2 basically says rat me out. So does 5 (sorry but Freakonomic would likely evoke the wrong response from a criminal, in that your easy to exploit)

    Remember we’re talking about a crime, and likely not a white collar crime at that. Each answer here overall is easily exploitable by the answer. Most of these answers are “thinking questions” where the responder needs to think about the question and what it means to get the hidden meaning. The problem is we’re asking 3 random people, not 3 philosophers.

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  73. Nate says:

    #4

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  74. heather says:

    #2

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  75. Aidan says:

    Definitely #1

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  76. Jef Hall says:

    #4 – you should be able to reason out #1.

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  77. Martin says:

    #3

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  78. Michael F. Martin says:

    #1

    The only one with empirical support that I understand.

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  79. Naim says:

    #1

    What if they never went to college? It’s less likely for somebody with college experience to be in jail than somebody without.

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  80. Izzy says:

    #3

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  81. Jeremy Clark says:

    Correction @ 66

    If I have to pick one, I’d go with #4 because its so ridiculous to think that the prisoner would answer truthfully, they might think me irrational enough to cooperate for merely asking it (and then I’d defect).

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  82. Peter says:

    As someone who is an economist and an ethicist, I have to vote #2. But my answer of ‘zero’ would for 99% of people probably indicate having taken no ethics or econ, in my case, it means I’ve taken (so far) about 6 of each.

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  83. pd game says:

    #1. But only because this might induce List to post more on this site.

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  84. David says:

    #4

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  85. tony says:

    Those questions are all terrible. I think something more along the lines of “If I keep silent, why would you be willing to keep silent?” Then you can judge the quality of answers and select the best one.

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  86. Sandi Mays says:

    #3

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  87. Raphael says:

    #4, for sure.

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  88. VK says:

    #4 obviously. Regardless of what you know about the person, it’s always in their best interest to testify unless you introduce an externality that makes it no longer so.

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  89. Ulrich says:

    To be precise, what the Nash character in the “bar scene” in “A Beautiful Mind” really said, was:

    “What if no one goes for the blond? We don’t get in each other’s way, and we don’t insult the other girls? That’s the only way we win. That’s the only way we all get laid.”
    (The last sentence has been cut from the released clip of this movie.)

    A detailed analysis of the game implicit in the “bar scene” was published in JEBO 63 (2007) and can be found here:
    http://www.virginia.edu/economics/papers/anderson/JEBO061305.pdf

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  90. Ben Reinhold says:

    #4

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  91. JEANNE says:

    2. I like the Yin and Yang of this.

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  92. Todd says:

    #3

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  93. Ian Ferrel says:

    #2

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  94. phat pat says:

    This is a truly fascinating article which will keep me reading the Freakonomics blog for a while…

    I would like to point out that nearly all of the votes cast so far are backed up with legitimate, insightful reasoning. Maybe this is the reason that economists tear their hair out, grow gray hair, or lose their hair due to stress, because economists are quested with the task of determining the behaviour of the Human Animal… in a macroeconomic setting.

    I vote #4.

    Have a terrific evening. =]

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  95. Omair says:

    I vote #1. Beauty in simplicity.

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  96. TDB says:

    #2, but #5 is a very close second

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  97. Jeff says:

    #4

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  98. Sean says:

    #1

    I just trust old people more.

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  99. Dean says:

    #4

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  100. Robert Olson says:

    #2 would be the worst, IMO. My score would be -6. Even though I’d normally be helpful, I’d be convinced that anyone asking this would be setting me up for a fall.

    #3 tells you nothing besides whether or not the person understands game theory, and it ALSO conveys to that person that YOU understand game theory, too. If they don’t like you, they’ll screw you over.

    #4 culls very little information. It builds a relationship with the other person. Then you obviously rat them out. ;)

    #5, I think, also tells you nothing. Just because they read the book doesn’t mean they remember anything about it.

    By process of elimination, #1 is the best. Also, young people have distorted discount rates. They are more likely to value the time they spend in jail more than older folk. They are also likely to be highly emotional and easily intimidated.

    #1 #1 #1!!!!!

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  101. Lee says:

    I vote #1.
    Note however. In all these games the true answer is always betrayal. The entire center of corporate politics and “risk taking” is the premise that I can grab the money and run. Or in this case. Get off a free man.

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  102. Mikey O says:

    #4

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  103. baby says:

    #1 definitely.

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  104. Anna Turtle says:

    #3.

    #1 is pointless because you can pretty much tell how old someone is by looking at them. The prisoners in the squib were previously together and were separated, so they have seen one another.

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  105. Kent says:

    #4

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  106. MikeT says:

    I’m surprised to see few or no choices for #5. Seems to me a response to question five tells you more about what drives a person’s decision making. Except for maybe the bar question.

    #5

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  107. Eran says:

    #3

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  108. Mark says:

    #3

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  109. WholeMealOfFood says:

    #4

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  110. Bette says:

    # 2, but what if the answer is 0-0

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  111. stony says:

    # 2

    I’ve taken a lot of economic courses, and few ethics courses. I’d like to weed myself out!

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  112. Edward says:

    I’d like to go with Will Wilkinson above and ask “How may I help you?” First, it’s disarming, decreasing the likelihood that the other guy will lie to you, and in any case, improves the likelihood that no matter who you pick, everybody will have a slightly improved disposition towards you and will be less likely to testify against you. I think it’s similar to another respondent who asked, “Where would you like to go to dinner in six months?”

    If we stick with the five choices, though, I’d probably pick #1. Demographics, as simple as it seems, drives everything in life.

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  113. Katie says:

    #3

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  114. Kat says:

    #1

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  115. Neal Zupancic says:

    #4!!!

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  116. Michael says:

    Definitely #2

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  117. MattieShoes says:

    I was trying to figure out how the answer to #3 would affect my own decision.

    With that question, you’re doing two things. You’re implying that you know game theory, and you’re asking whether they also know game theory. If they do, then they know the dominant strategy, but they also know it’s not optimal. So if they DO know game theory, would you assume they went for the dominant strategy even though it’s not optimal, or would you assume that if you both know game theory, you’d cooperate and get the optimal solution?

    If it were me, I’d have picked a game theory problem not in a blockbuster movie though — Lots of people would spout off the answer from the movie regardless of what they think or know.

    #4 is interesting because it tries to change the results of testifying. Instead of 5 years or scott free, you have potentially killed or potentially killed. It’d probably be the most effective though.

    So I’m thinking #4 is the best question (assuming the other has to be honest), but #3 is more interesting.

    I wonder what would happen if you went with #4, and the most cherished family member was already dead? Aieee!

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  118. Allen Baranov says:

    1 gives you a better chance of guessing which way to go but not all the way there. I think this is my second choice.
    2 would give you a “huh?” but ethics fall apart when faced with really bad odds.
    3 is an interesting way to ask “when we are faced with the dilema, will you sell me out?”. Why not just ask the guy straight out and be done with it?4 is my choice!
    5 is a nice question but doesn’t get a perfect answer.

    More information on choice:
    My assumption is that the person has to answer correctly. If this is the case then he is quite aware of your intentions and with a simple question – you have really told the person “I intend to plead innocent, I suggest you do the same”.

    If the guy has the option of lying then no question you ask will help you make a decision – question #1 being the one that will most likely get an honest answer.

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  119. Jonas says:

    #4

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  120. Conor - ireland says:

    #3 definitely…

    Uch, i hate freakonomics, I’m beginning to see aptonyms everywhere, the top 5 list gets drawn up by none other that John List… and this week the 100m sprint world record was broken by Usain BOLT… hilarious no?

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  121. Prasanna says:

    I have to say its all be OHT. Too much of it! And I have a negative vote for ALL choices!

    -1 to 1.
    -1 to 2.
    -1 to 3.
    -1 to 4.
    -1 to 5.

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  122. David says:

    #4, not only does it make the person invested in the game. It creates the implicit expectation of your own silence. That added benefit is crucial.

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  123. ethone says:

    #3

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  124. Steve L. says:

    I love #4. It makes the indefinite nature of PD much more visceral. Plus, a little fear never hurt.

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  125. JEH says:

    #4 (of course)

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  126. Jurgen says:

    #4

    It seems to me that all these questions suffer from not being answered truthfully. Especially if the person you are asking is smart.
    So number 4 comes closest to being a threat wrapped up as a question and therefore the better choice.

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  127. Doug says:

    #3 because it tests their reasoning

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  128. Jurgen says:

    “In fact, the one-shot PD game discussed in this post has what is called a “dominant strategy” to testify.

    That is, regardless of what the other person does, it is always in your best interest to defect, or in this example, testify.”

    This is not true, the prisoners dilemma does not have a dominant strategy. Both cooperating is better than both defecting.
    The prisoners dilemma is a dilemma because the lack of communication forces both players into a mutualy harmful strategy. You don’t want to be the sucker that has to sit in prison for 10 years so you choose defect, your partner does the same and you both go to prison for 5 when you could have gone to prison for 6 months.

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  129. Craig says:

    I vote for # 2

    Craig (the real one who proposed the question – which can be verified by checking the email and IP address.)

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  130. ProfPTJ says:

    #2. Self-interested “rational” behavior is socialized rather than innate, so knowing something about a person’s socialization is a better way to forecast their future actions in the game than, say, knowing about their age (the correlation that #1 is going for is just a correlation, not a causal mechanism) or their reading habits as #5 requests (they might read and dislike Freakonomics). #4 only makes a difference to the game if the implied threat is credible, and I’ll disagree with Dr. List and argue that #3 tells us nothing useful about gaming behavior because of the idiosyncrasies of standards of beauty — a PD game with clearly-specified payoffs eliminates that ambiguity.

    The question that didn’t make the top 5, the one I would really ask, would be something like: “is success doing well for yourself, or doing better than others?” That gets more directly at PD logic, and while it’s not a perfect predictor I’d warrant that asking the question just before making a selection of a partner also invokes a social norm that might affect the subsequent course of play (provided that you don’t choose the person who answers that success is doing better than other people, of course). In that way the asking of the question might help to alter the social context of the game by getting your potential partner to start thinking of the game in a different way — in this case, as a more cooperative endeavor.

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  131. Sylvian says:

    I would vote for the #4, because out of all the 5 it gives the best chance for you to choose the person to coerce with…

    Although #5 is attractive, its the most dangerous question to be put forth with…

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  132. insured? says:

    #4 is my insured bet too- we all need it. But then are we not assuming that the addressee can be found. Try calling for a phone number these days. Here is one instance where competition has made matters so much worse- you get old numbers, wrong numbers, fax numbers, no answer, 1800 non working numbers, dial a horoscope numbers i.e., all the wrong numbers- might as well go on line and look- takes longer, but I eventually get what I need. The peter principle at work- in organizations that think that improving technology and getting rid of the human touch increases profits do not know that not only employees, but employers rise to the level of incompetence when it comes to what works and what doesn’t.

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  133. Scott says:

    #4.

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  134. Jens says:

    I believe it all depends on your own interests. Do you wanna establish the (coöperative) behaviour of the other person? Or do you want to convince him to cooperate? If cooperation is your first choice by preference, then you would like to know what the other guy would do. Will he cooperate or defect? Asking for his age is the best option in that respective. However, when you know you are going to defect, then you want to convince the other guy to cooperate. Question number 4 would be the best option in that case.

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  135. SAM says:

    #4, for reason stated by 123.

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  136. dig deep says:

    #1, simple and garners something important

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  137. Mary says:

    #2

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  138. Chris says:

    #2

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  139. The Pondonome says:

    #1 is #1

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  140. Jesse says:

    1

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  141. Freaky PD says:

    #4 would be the best option, assuming you get a truthful answer. The other prisoner is forced to remain silent under this threat, allowing you to defect and walk away free and clear.

    Of course, this experiment would be measurably more interesting if the other prisoner were also allowed to ask you a question, which you must answer truthfully. If they asked you a #4 question, then you would have a stalemate, and both would remain silent and take the short sentence.

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  142. JKP says:

    #3. Besides being most revealing, it offers information about everybody. Several of the alternatives have the problem that the answer distribution would be very lopsided and thus not discriminate in many cases.

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  143. CT says:

    #2

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  144. TKay says:

    I see the intimidation factor of #4, and the point you are trying to make, but the point of the question is to ask all 3 people the same question to pick the prisoner that is most likely to stay quiet to serve the six months with, or if its in your personality- rat on and they serve 10 and you go home.

    So-going off the assumption that your questions are answered truthfully by all 3 prisoners, if they all give you the address, how does that help you pick??

    Now to take it a step further-if we are assuming that all questions are answered honestly,how about, what are you doing for the next 6 months?

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  145. Whitfit says:

    #2

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  146. Jrrd says:

    Speaking acting in one’s own self-interest, I vote for #1!

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  147. KC says:

    #4

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  148. Covallini says:

    #3

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  149. Christopher says:

    #4 – Changing the payout matrix is the only way to avoid jailtime.

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  150. John says:

    #2
    (but I had to use a fake name while voting, because I’m an economist)

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  151. Nick says:

    All of the questions are pointless. Regardless of any information you reveal by asking any of the above questions you still don’t have an incentive to not defect. Thus the only point in asking a question is to try and intimidate your opponent into staying silent, and therefore I suppose no. 4 is the most appropriate.

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  152. Sean says:

    #4. As stated before, you have insurance.

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  153. Scott says:

    #3

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  154. Scott says:

    Since people in my family tend to be given the harshest penalties for the smallest of “crimes” while watching hardened criminals receive the equivalent of “Naughty, naughty, don’t do that again,” I would have to pick #5. I know I am going to jail, it would be nice to have a conversation companion.

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  155. SammyC says:

    Anything but #2 that is the most ridiculously unrealistic question. In real life 80% of people will say, “huh?” because they haven’t taken/paid attention to classes in either subject. 15+% will answer 0 or -1. But what does that really tell you?

    Everyone who says #2 is either an economist, an ethicist, or just a total nerd.

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  156. Madelaine says:

    #4

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  157. kip says:

    #4 all the way

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  158. Jared T says:

    #3

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  159. Sara says:

    #4

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  160. prklypr says:

    I seem to be in the minority, but I’m going with my gut – I like #5. I can’t imagine not being able to discuss Freakonomics. Every time I mention the book or blog, I either get a blank stare (end of conversation) or an enthusiastic response (lively discussion follows).

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  161. Chris says:

    Since there is no incentive for these people to tell the truth, only #1 guarantees that you aren’t giving away more information than you are receiving, which is rarely a good move. With any of the other questions, whoever you pick, will know more about you than you learned from them (since you have no idea whether the answer is the truth). A ‘no’ in the Freakonomics question means either they didn’t read the book, OR read the book and understood it.

    A better question would be “How would you convince me not to rat you out?”. That way you might get all the answers you need and have given away nothing about yourself.

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  162. bgist says:

    #3

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  163. shrlck says:

    #4

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  164. paolo says:

    #4

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  165. Dan says:

    #2. How can you vote 4? They would just lie.

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  166. Helen says:

    #3

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  167. Jack says:

    #1

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  168. Geo says:

    #2

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  169. Kevin says:

    #2, if only because I’m about negative 6.

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  170. Tulika says:

    #2

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  171. Amon says:

    #4, clearly.

    I am shocked by the number of folks who count out our partner in crime from being educated. I sure wouldn’t want to rob a bank with any dummies.

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  172. ksenia says:

    #2!

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  173. alcibiades424 says:

    #2. I’m negative 2.

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  174. Avik says:

    #2, definitely…

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  175. alexr says:

    Surely #3

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  176. Shannon Prestridge says:

    #3

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  177. paul says:

    #3. i like blondes, tho.

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  178. mark says:

    #4
    It does a fine job of weighting the matrix, so that it will change the rational decision towards the asker’s favor.

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  179. Voter says:

    4

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  180. adam says:

    No. 3

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  181. Soup says:

    #3

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  182. tito says:

    #2

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  183. ewjordan says:

    #2

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  184. Frank says:

    #4. It is the only one which increases the probability of the oponent shutting its mouth. The others just let you know what’s going to happen, this one improves your situation.

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  185. does it really matter which one you chose? says:

    Was thinkin about the questions. And when I took each one seriously came to the conclusion that it does not matter which one you chose,
    Say the question about age- If I found out the person were a kid say less then 10, I would say good choice. cause kids are honest as hell== the older you get, the more savie socialized you become and lying becomes a way of life. But then as you get older, there’s no benefit to lying- so if all were the same age, would it matter which one I chose. And then again if all were the same age and I did not know the sex,would have no choice but to chose randomly.

    But then again, if I chose 2, those who take ethics course may be the most unethical. Reminds me of why people become cops= they understand robbers. Why people become lawyers, they understanding the ins and outs of law. why people become accountants- they know how to fineagle (sorry for spelling) when it comes to taxes.

    BUt then again, if I chose 3, well wouldn’t it depend upon alot of factors–mood, state of mind.
    there are hues of honesty too. The handsomest could be the most socially unadept and hence the most honest. The nerd, most adept and playing games like polker.

    And then if I chose 4, I will leave this one open?

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  186. F.A.E.L. says:

    You are supposing that they are not going to lie but that is not always true.

    For example:

    “What is the name and address of your most cherished family member?”

    Why would someone truthfully answer this?

    Also

    “Do you read Freakonomics?”

    What if they all say “no”? Or all of them say “yes”?

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  187. MP says:

    #2 for the win

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  188. josh says:

    #4

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  189. Kevin H says:

    as John points out, your action is already set. In every circumstances your outcome is best if you talk. Therefore the only logical thing to do is for you to talk. The question is not useful if deciding your behavior, but it CAN be useful in trying to influence the other person’s behavior. You are better off (regardless of your choice) if they do not rat you out, therefore clearly the point of the question should be to increase the chance that your partner will not talk. Manipulation is the name of this game.

    I would love to see Darren Brown’s answer to this question, but my criteria would get rid of everything but #4. Crude, but effective.

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  190. achilles3 says:

    2

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  191. D! says:

    3, gives you a laugh and is telling

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  192. Dan M says:

    number 2

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  193. William J Murphy III says:

    What is the happiness experienced by Buddhist Monks Worth?

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