Five ways to escape a prisoners dilemma

If you find yourself in a prisoners dilemma there are some ways you can try to get out of it.

1 – Communication

In the normal definition of the problem the two prisoners are not able to communicate with each other. One way out of the problem is if the two can find a way to talk to each other and agree their course of action. Of course, even with this there is the risk that one will not stick to the agreement. To enforce the agreement may need one of the other tactics.

2 – Threats

If threats can be introduced into the game then the payoff for players that don’t co-operate can be lowered so that there is an incentive to co-operate. An example is if the two prisoners were members of the mafia. They know that whilst they could avoid a prison sentence by betraying the other prisoner they will be punished when they get out of prison. This makes it a better option to co-operate and serve a shorter prison sentence.

3 – Rewards

Similar to the idea of threats, rewards can be used to change the payoffs in the game. If there is a reward for co-operation then this can become the better strategy for the players to follow.

4 – Make it a repeated game

If the game is going to be played more than once then there is more chance of the players co-operating. Then it will be best to follow a tit-for-tat strategy.

5 – Bring in a third party

If there is a third party that both the prisoners trust then the may be able to convince both the players to co-ordinate their behavior to get a better result.


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1 Response to Five ways to escape a prisoners dilemma

  1. Bharat Bansal says:

    I don’t agree with the communication argument. It’s because any prisoner will strictly want to defect once he thinks he has convinced the other that he should cooperate (as he is willing to cooperate).

    Repeated games might or might not lead to the convergence to the Nash strategy.

    Getting a third party – looks dodgy again. Why would I play it unless it’s not my best strategy. Only way would be to change incentives.

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