Psychology Today: A Test of Wills, Joachim Krueger

In his latest Psychology Today article, A Test of Wills, Brown University Psychology Professor Joachim Krueger, a faculty member in the Executive Master in Science and Technology Leadership, uses game theory to analyze a classic standoff between a parent and their toddler.

According to game theory, a protracted stalemate is the worst outcome. Both know that there must be an eventual reunion and reconciliation. The person who relents is defeated, but the sucker’s outcome of unilateral cooperation is slightly better than the penalty outcome of mutual – and interminable – defection. Yet, the best outcome is to have the other relent.

The kid is angling for mom’s parental instincts to prevail, and mom’s banking on the kid’s ultimate desire not to be left behind in the woods. Because both know that the other prefers, however slightly, to relent over prolonged separation, the dilemma is a nasty one. The kid knows that mom will come around, and mom knows the kid will come around. With that knowledge the most unpleasant – and destructive – state of the defective stalemate can go on for long time.

Here, game theory delivers a surprise: if it were the case that both ‘players’ had to choose between cooperation and defection at the same time and without knowledge of the other’s choice, both would cooperate because even unilateral cooperation is better than mutual defection. It is the knowledge of the other and the ability to see her that keeps hope alive that the other might yield first.

However, Krueger challenges the game theory outcome by concluding, “kids always win.” To find out why and gain insights into understanding human interactions through different disciplinary frameworks, read the rest of the article here.

Joachim Krueger

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