The Dynamics of Social Dilemmas; March 1994; Scientific American Magazine; by Glance, Huberman; 6 Page(s)
Imagine that you and a group of friends are dining at a fine restaurant with an unspoken agreement to divide the check evenly. What do you order? Do you choose the modest chicken entree or the pricey lamb chops? The house wine or the Cabernet Sauvignon 1983? If you are extravagant, you could enjoy a superlative dinner at a bargain price. But if everyone in the party reasons as you do, the group will end up with a hefty bill to pay. And why should others settle for pasta primavera when someone is having grilled pheasant at their expense?
This lighthearted situation, which we call the Unscrupulous Diner's Dilemma, typifies a class of serious, difficult problems that pervade society. Sociologists, economists and political scientists find that this class of social dilemma is central to a wide range of issues, such as protecting the environment, conserving natural resources, eliciting donations to charity, slowing military arms races and containing the population explosion. All these issues involve goals that demand collective effort and cooperation. The challenge is to induce individuals to contribute to common causes when selfish actions would be more immediately and personally bene ficial. Studies of these problems cast light on the nature of interactions among individuals and the emergence of social compacts. Moreover, they explain how personal choices give rise to social phenomena.