The Prisoner’s Dilemma

I demonstrate the classical game theory problem of the prisoner’s dilemma live on BBC Radio, with a short introduction to the subject from Sergey Gavrilets. You can listen to the full interview via the Naked Scientists here.

A lot of our decisions, although we may not realise it, rely on maths. Game Theory is the study of the decision-making process and it can be applied to almost any subject including economics, political science, psychology, and even biology. The last one is of particular interest to Sergey Gavrilets, a mathematician at the University of Tennessee, who uses game theory to model early human behaviour…

  • Game theory is the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers
  • An example would be if your phone was ringing in the next room whilst you are watching a movie with your family – the group benefits from answering the phone, but no-one wants to make the sacrifice themselves to do so
  • The prisoner’s dilemma looks at whether or not you should snitch on your friend and have a chance of going free, or stay quiet and hope your friend doesn’t snitch
  • Ultimately the best solution is for you both to stay silent, but it relies on trusting your friend for it to work!

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