Amazing Round of "Split or Steal"
In Liars and Outliers, I use the metaphor of the Prisoner's Dilemma to exemplify the conflict between group interest and self-interest. There are a gazillion academic papers on the Prisoner's Dilemma from a good dozen different academic disciplines, but the weirdest dataset on real people playing the game is from a British game show called Golden Balls.
In the final round of the game, called "Split or Steal," two contestants play a one-shot Prisoner's Dilemma -- technically, it's a variant -- choosing to either cooperate (and split a jackpot) or defect (and try to steal it). If one steals and the other splits, the stealer gets the whole jackpot. And, of course, if both contestants steal then both end up with nothing. There are lots of videos from the show on YouTube. (There are even two papers that analyze data from the game.) The videos are interesting to watch, not just to see how players cooperate and defect, but to watch their conversation beforehand and their reactions afterwards. I wrote a few paragraphs about this game for Liars and Outliers, but I ended up deleting them.
This is the weirdest, most surreal round of "Split or Steal" I have ever seen. The more I think about the psychology of it, the more interesting it is. I'll save my comments for the comments, because I want you to watch it before I say more. Really.
For consistency's sake in the comments, here are their names. The man on the left is Ibrahim, and the man on the right is Nick.
EDITED TO ADD (5/14): Economic analysis of the episode.
Posted on April 24, 2012 at 6:43 AM • 162 Comments