Prisoner’s Dilemma Essay

The paper represents a review of “Prior Experience and Patterning in a Prisoner’s Dilemma Game” by Albert Silverstein, David Cross, Jay Brown and Howard Rachlin. The researchers experimented with the prisoner’s dilemma game analyzing the efficiency of different strategies and revealed a cooperation-preserving effect of pattering of trials that were played in the form of game.

Traditionally, a prisoner’s dilemma was a subject of a particular concern of specialists dealing with the problem of decision making. Along the variety of researches and discussions related to this problem, it is possible to single out the study conducted by Albert Silverstein, David Cross, Jay Brown and Howard Rachlin and which they depicted in details in their article “Prior Experience and Patterning in a Prisoner’s Dilemma Game”. In this particular work, the authors basically focus on the effect experience and patterning in prisoner’s dilemma game produce on individuals and their behavioral reactions.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments in order to find out the effect of the use of different experiment strategies and their consequences in the reactions and behavior of subjects within the game. The basic strategies the experimenters used in their research applied to a prisoner’s dilemma game were: play tit-for-tat, play randomly, always cooperate, and always defect.

It is worthy to note that initially, the researchers started with a pseudo-prisoner’s dilemma game during which the subjects had been actually prepared for the prisoner’s dilemma game while researchers collected the general information and defined the basic trends in their reactions and behavior during the game.

Also, it is very important to underline that the subjects were females only, to put it more precisely, they were 80 female undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory psychology class. As for the experimenter, she was a female too and such a choice was made intentionally since, as the researchers estimate, it should contribute to the lower level of variability of data and admit that the results might have been different with male experimenter or subject. In such a way, the researchers probably attempted to achieve a possibly higher degree of objectivity and reliability of their research.

The authors provided an example of their research which may be briefly presented in the exhibit 1 which actually demonstrates one of the games the subjects played and the possible strategies that were applied. (a) actually represents a matrix of hypothetical prisoner’s dilemma rewards in dollars for player A and player B depending on their choices to cooperate C or defect D. Within each cell, a player A received the upper-right reward, while player B received the lower-left reward. The section (b) represents prisoner’s dilemma alternatives from player’s A point of view. Notably, if player B cooperated (chose C), player A chose between 4 and 3 dollars. If player B defected (chose D), player A chose between 2 and 1 dollars. The dashed line in the exhibit shows average returns to player A in repeated games against player B, playing tit-for-tat, as A’s choices range from 100% defection to 100% cooperation.

On analyzing the data collected, the researchers arrived to the conclusion that, on passing through different stages of experiments, notably from pseudo-prisoner’s dilemma game to prisoner’s dilemma game, among the variety of strategies used, only tit-for-tat group increased cooperation over trials, while other groups in stark contrast decreased cooperation dramatically. The authors draws a sufficient amount of statistical information to support this statement. At the same time, it is worthy to note that in pseudo-prisoner’s dilemma game, the subjects played with the experimenter and after that they had got a chance to play with each other. In such a way, the trials were patterned repeatedly and the researchers found out that this retarded the development of mutual defection and at the same time, this contributed to the preservation of cooperation between the subjects.

In conclusion, it is possible to say that, on analyzing the experiments of Albert Silverstein et al. it is necessary to take into considerations the fact that the subjects represent only females that naturally makes it hardly possible to forecast the effect of the experiments on males. Nonetheless, it should be said that the conclusions made by the researchers are quite helpful in better understanding the strategies that could be used in prisoner’s dilemma games and their effects. At the same time, the information and conclusions of the research are presented in a good and understandable way that makes it very helpful, especially for specialists dealing with similar problems.


Ainslie, G. Picoeconomics: The Strategic Interaction of Successive Motivational States Within the Person, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Axelrod, R. “Effective choice in the prisoner's dilemma”, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 24 (1980), 3-25.
Green, L., Price, P. C. and Hamburger, M. E. “Prisoner's dilemma and the pigeon: Control by immediate consequences”, Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 64 (1995), 1-18.
Rachlin, H. “The value of temporal patterns in behavior”, Current Directions, 4 (1995b), 188-91.
Rapoport, A. and Chammah, A. M. Prisoner's Dilemma, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1965.
Silverstein, Albert et al. “Prior Experience and Pattering in a Prisoner’s Dilemma Game”, Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, Vol 11, 1998, p.123-138.

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