Several years ago, Felix Oberholzer-Gee, Joel Waldfogel and Matthew W. White, published a fascinating empirical article about the prisoner’s dilemma game embedded in the short-lived U.S. game show “Friend or Foe.” Their core findings:
Using data from two seasons of a television game show, we provide evidence about how individuals implement conditionally cooperative preferences. We show that (1) contestants forgo large sums of money to be cooperative, (2) players cooperate at heightened levels when their opponents are predictably cooperative, and (3) players whose observable characteristics predict less cooperation fare worse (monetarily) over time, as opponents avoid cooperating with them.
I always thought it might be nice to update the study to test to see whether different kinds of “cheap talk” were more or less effective in establishing cooperation (ex. Does swearing an oath to God make your promise more credible?).
It might be time for a follow up: The UK game show “Golden Balls” (sounds like an Austin Power’s character) ends with the same PD conflict – as two contestants have to decide after a 30-second discussion whether to “split” or “steal” the big prize. This clip shows a contestant who devised an amazing (but possibly not repeatable) solution to the dilemma: