Cooperative Behavior

A popular university psychology professor offered an exercise to his students each semester just before the final exam. In this offer he emailed each student the choice that they could accept a 2 point extra credit addition to their final exam score or they could accept a 6 point addition.

The hitch to the offer was, that if more than 10% of the class chose the 6 point offer, none of the class would receive any extra credit points.

It turned out that over a period of several years enough students in each class justified to themselves their need or desire or right to those 6 points, that not once in those years did those choosing 6 points fall in number below the 10% required for any in the class to receive extra credit points.

1st variant

The teacher then devised an interesting variant on the exercise, which made it possible for a student to choose 0 extra credit points. For each student choosing 0 points, 1 person, randomly selected, would be eliminated from the group choosing 6 points, losing everything.

From that point on almost half of the classes qualified under the original requirement that required less than 10% of the class to opt for 6 points in order for all of the students to receive the extra credit points they selected. It even accomplished this at times with no one choosing the 0 point option.

I have sat here for a long time now pondering what this all means and what I would do. Of the 0 pointer’s or 2 pointer’s or 6 pointer’s, which do you think has a higher developed sense of altruism?

Perhaps we might consider a couple of other questions:

. Do you think so many persons attempting to maximize their personal benefit means it’s human nature to be greedy and selfish, or are some simply being strategic?
. Do you think the ones who choose 0 points do it because they are selfless or is there possibility for other motives?
. Which option of the exercise – the original or the variant – do you think demonstrates a more highly developed cooperative nature as a class unit?
. What would you do?

There are some lines from an old Beatles song that tells us: “All the world is a birthday cake / so take a piece / but not too much.”

Keith Henderson

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