How Do Real Prisoners Play Prisoner's Dilemma?

Economists Menusch Khadjavi and Andreas Lange recently published a paper on how real prisoners play the Prisoner’s Dilemma game:

We report insights into the behavior of prisoners in dilemma situations that so famously carry their name. We compare female inmates and students in a simultaneous and a sequential Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the simultaneous Prisoner’s Dilemma, the cooperation rate among inmates exceeds the rate of cooperating students. Relative to the simultaneous dilemma, cooperation among first-movers in the sequential Prisoner’s Dilemma increases for students, but not for inmates. Students and inmates behave identically as second movers. Hence, we find a similar and significant fraction of inmates and students to hold social preferences.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

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? Never Played That Game.


Joe Dokes

I think it's interesting that they chose female inmates. I'm PURELY speculating, but I think that the results would have been much different if male prisoners had been chosen. It is my opinion that the higher rates of narcissistic behavior amongst male prisoners would lead to a vastly different outcome.


Joe Dokes

Shane L

Just from pop culture depictions of criminal environments I often see a huge taboo around "snitching" to authorities. I suppose this attitude comes from a sort of real life Prisoner's Dilemma. The criminals know that they may be placed in a situation where they are vulnerable to other prisoners, so perhaps cultural norms develop that tend to demonise those who inform on other criminals to police?

Non-criminals don't face such pressures or expectations so perhaps they are more likely to cave and sell out the unknown strangers.

David Leppik

Never been to prison, but I understand it can be a harsh place. Bad things can happen if you make other inmates angry with you. Much more so than college. In that case, is it any surprise that inmates are more cooperative than students?

Rogiér Cenin

It would be interesting to let groups in prison play this game and compare to random chosen groups of non-prisoners.