Archives for game theory



Question of the Day: How to Get Roommates to Share in Cleaning?

A reader named Jason Stauffer writes:

I live with four guys in a house. We had no cleaning schedule until about a month ago, but the house was never cluttered, and was more than clean enough for actual women to feel comfortable visiting. Even the bathroom was clean enough for the girls to freely use it without vomiting. However since we have implemented our cleaning schedule the house has gotten into worse and worse shape. The toilet downstairs is even looking so bad I don’t want to use it. What gives?

Okay, everybody, let’s hear what you have to say about private vs. public incentives, moral hazard, and the general cleanliness of men.



How to Game a Grading Curve

Students in three of Professor Peter Fröhlich‘s computer programming classes at Johns Hopkins University recently devised a method to game their final grades.  Frolich grades exams on a curve — the highest grade in the class, whatever it may be, becomes 100 percent, and “everybody else gets a percentage relative to it.”  So students collectively planned a boycott:

Because they all did, a zero was the highest score in each of the three classes, which, by the rules of Fröhlich’s curve, meant every student received an A.

“The students refused to come into the room and take the exam, so we sat there for a while: me on the inside, they on the outside,” Fröhlich said. “After about 20-30 minutes I would give up…. Then we all left.” The students waited outside the rooms to make sure that others honored the boycott, and were poised to go in if someone had. No one did, though.

Catherine Rampell discusses the strategy: Read More »



Contraception as a Prisoner’s Dilemma

A reader named Dennis Schenkel in Martin, Tenn., writes in with an interesting commentary about an article that intersects with a lot of things we’ve written about:

First, I know I’m partisan. I’m a Catholic priest. I’m a moralist. I’m biased. That having been said, I just read an article [from 2010] … describing how better contraceptives have successfully split the previous (before 1960) “mating market” into two markets consisting of the “sex market” and the “marriage market,” the author goes on to describe how this sets up a classic “prisoner’s dilemma” for women and gives men a huge advantage in both markets. The article appears in First Things, which is a religion/philosophy/culture/arts journal inhabited mostly by orthodox Catholic and Protestant Christians. But the article’s author does his best to speak exclusively in the language of the social sciences, without moralizing.

 



Your Parked Car Gets Dinged By an Unknown Driver. Now What?

A British reader named Dominic Ellison sends the following photo and note:

I saw the attached notice in the window of a neighbor’s car that had been pranged and lost its bumper.

I felt that it was an interesting test in game theory and was reminded of what I think is called the Prisoner’s Dilemma, as the reader must certainly ask a number of questions:

Does the owner really have CCTV evidence? If so, why does the poster not allude to make, model or registration?

Would the consequences be genuinely worse if not come forward? For example, was it a drink driver not wishing to be identified at the time?

Read More »



UK Game Show Golden Balls: A New Solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma

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. Read More »



(Almost) The Triumph of Game Theory at the Super Bowl

One of the amazing things about the Super Bowl game this past weekend was that both coaches understood that the Patriots would be better off if the Giants scored a touchdown late in the game and reportedly instructed their teams accordingly.  To my mind, this represents a high point in the prevalence of strategic thinking. 

Was the failure of Ahmad Bradshaw to follow through on his coach’s instruction merely a failure of execution?

But I wonder whether the Giants failed to strategically optimize on the very next play selection.  With about a minute left in the game (and with a timeout remaining for the Patriots), the Giants choose to go for a two-point conversion.  My question is not about whether they should have kicked a point after.  No, I wonder whether they might have done better by handing the ball to a swift runner, who might have even more perversely attempted to forgo scoring two points and instead tried to burn as many seconds off the clock as possible by merely running away from the other team (toward, but not into, the other endzone!).   Read More »



A Twilight Opening Night Payoff Matrix

A student was interested in seeing the new Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn Part 1. And her roommate, a “Twi-Hard,” even had an extra ticket for the opening, midnight showing. The student likes seeing the vampires and werewolves occasionally, but cannot stand the continuing screams of the mostly pre-pubescent audience. She views her situation as a game with the following payoff bi-matrix: Read More »



A Study in Child Cooperation: Sweden vs. Colombia

The behavior of children continues to be of interest for both economists and Freakonomics. Back in May, we looked at research by the German economist Martin Kocher showing that young children are generally less risk-averse than adults.

Now, a working paper by Juan-Camilo Cardenas, Anna Dreber, Emma von Essen and Eva Ranehill at the Stockholm School of Economics compares the cooperative behavior of Swedish children and Colombian children using the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, which explores how two parties cooperate in the absence of communication. Read More »