chapter  5
21 Pages

THE PRISONERS’ DILEMMA

The prisoners’ dilemma fascinates social scientists because it is an interaction where the individual pursuit of what seems rational produces a collectively self-defeating result. Each person does what appears best to them and yet the outcome is painfully inferior for all. Even though there is nothing obviously faulty with their logic, their attempt to improve their prospects makes everyone worse off. The paradoxical quality of this result helps explain part of the fascination. But the major reason for the interest is purely practical. Outcomes in social life are often less than we might hope and the prisoners’ dilemma provides one possible key to their understanding.