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Prisoner's Dilemma

  • By: Paul A. M. Van Lange & Anthon Klapwijk
  • In: Encyclopedia of Social Psychology
  • Edited by: Roy F. Baumeister & Kathleen D. Vohs
  • Subject:Social Psychology (general)
Definition

Beyond any doubt, Prisoner's Dilemma is the bestknown situation in which self-interest and collective interest are at odds. The situation derives its name from the classic anecdote about two prisoners who were accused of robbing a bank. In this anecdote, the district attorney, unable to prove that the prisoners were guilty, created a dilemma in an attempt to motivate the prisoners to confess to the crime. The prisoners were put in separate rooms, where each prisoner was to make a choice: to confess or not to confess.

The attorney sought to make confessing tempting to the prisoners by creating a situation in which the sentence was determined not only by their own confessing or not but also by the fellow prisoner's confessing or not. Yet ...

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