The Prisoner's Dilemma

The "Prisoner's Dilemma" game has been extensively discussed in both the public and academic press. Thousands of articles and many books have been written about this disturbing game and its apparent representation of many problems of society. The origin of the game is attributed to Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher. I quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Puzzles with this structure were devised and discussed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher in 1950, as part of the Rand CorporationÂ’s investigations into game theory (which Rand pursued because of possible applications to global nuclear strategy). The title "prisonerÂ’s dilemma" and the version with prison sentences as payoffs are due to Albert Tucker, who wanted to make Flood and DresherÂ’s ideas more accessible to an audience of Stanford psychologists. The Prisoner's Dilemma is a short parable about two prisoners who are individually offered a chance to rat on each other for which the "ratter" would receive a lighter sentence and the "rattee" would receive a harsher sentence. The problem results from the fact that both can play this game -- that is, defect -- and if both do, then both do worse than they would had they both kept silent. This peculiar parable serves as a model of cooperation between two or more individuals (or corporations or countries) in ordinary life in that in many cases each individual would be personally better off not cooperating (defecting) on the other.
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