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Communication in Crisis / The game theoretical model of relationship

The will of the actors

Human relations, as we have seen before, are embedded in procecces resulting in conflicts and compromises between actors who enact according to their motives stemming from their values and interests. Manel Castells is right stating that „change, be it evolutionary or revolutionary, is the essence of life” (Castells, 2009. p.299.). Changes result from the will of actors who are in interaction with each other. The way the actors feel and think determines they way they act.

Alan Turing in his 1950 paper „Computer Machinery and Intelligence” posed the famous question „Can machines think?” The question has not been answered properly. If we interprete „thinking” as process linked to the will to act we cannot give an affirmative answer to the provocative question posed by Alan Turing. Only human beings are capable to think and feel in their interaction with each other.

John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern conceptualize as game the interaction between human actors whose acts are directed by their will. (Neumann, Morgenstern, 1944) Identified as game the interaction between two human actors has become an exlplanatory model of cooperation and competition.

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Modern game theory began with the idea regarding the existence of mixed-strategy equilibria in two-person zero-sum games and its proof by John von Neumann.
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The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The name of the game is the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is formulated as follows. The police have arrested two suspects whom they believe committed a robbery together. The police does not have enough evidence to get them convicted. There is, however, evidence to send each suspects to prison for two years for a minor offense. The inspector makes an offer separately to each of the suspects and this is the dilemma they have to decide.

” If you will confess to the robbery, implicating your partner, and he does not also confess, then you'll go free and he’ll get ten years. If you both confess, you'll each get 5 years. If neither of you confess, then you'll each get two years for the theft.”

It is important to know, that the outcomes are contingent on the will of the suspects to cooperate or compete with each other. If both suspects confess then they each get 5 years in prison. If neither of them confess, they can get two years in prison each. If Suspect I confesses and Suspect II does not confess or reversely, then the one who has confessed goes as free while the other one who has not confessed gets 10 years in prison.

It is important to know, that the outcomes are contingent on the will of the suspects to cooperate or compete with each other. If both suspects confess then they each get 5 years in prison. If neither of them confess, they can get two years in prison each. If Suspect I confesses and Suspect II does not confess or reversely, then the one who has confessed goes as free while the other one who has not confessed gets 10 years in prison.

The dilemma is, consequently, to confess or not to confess. Or to put it in terms of social psychologiccal theory, to compete or to cooperate. Competition, by no means seems to be tempting, but it is risky. The winner will be free and loser will be put in prison for 10 years. Because both suspects would want to be free the likelihood of mutual loss is high. The viable solution of the dilemma would be the option of non-confession for both suspects. This cooperative solution would result two years imprisonment for both. Non-confession, however, is contingent on the will of the other to cooperate instead of compete.

The outcomes derived by the game theory model of human social interaction might seem relevant only for those who are inclined to explain situations in terms of cut-throat competition. Generals, politicians, businesspeople, criminals might find useful this model because of its Macchiavelianism. They are wrong. The game theory model reveals the logic that guides the will of the participants in any social interrelationship. No actor can spare the question of trust and distrust in any interrelationship. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is about trust and distrust.

Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan faced this dilemma of trust in the other person. It is enough to think that there is some possibility that the other actor might try to compete. The incentive induced by fear of the other’s lack of trust immediately becomes dominant in both actors. Each of them wants to hit before the other hits. As a result of this murderous logic of competition the actors will fail to understand the benefits of cooperation and in Hobbes’ words they will maintain a state of „war against all”.

Collective actors

Game theory is about the individual actors’ will to cooperate or compete. Conflicts that lead to wars, unrests and crises emerge characteristically between groups. The question is that how the model of game theory based on the feelings and thinking of individual actors can be applied on collective actors. The mininal group experiments carried out by Tajfel and his colleagues (Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, and Flament, 1971) have proven that the individual’s identification with the ingoup and outgroup was sufficient to give rise to the same kind of choices between competition and cooperation as it had been experienced in the case of individuals acting as persons. The experiments of Tajfel and his colleagues demonstrated that the collective identity has been incorporated into the sense of self. As a consequence the high levels of collective identification resulted a close connection of the group’s outcomes and welfare to own’s sense of well being. Social identity, conseqently, became an agent in deciding to prefer the ingroup over the outgroup. Three major variables were measured in the experiments using the minimal group paradigm. Once the subjects dichotomized the experimentally created social world according to the ingroup and to the outgroup they allocate rewards to members of their own group and members to the outgroup. The subject could choose between alternatives resulting fair allocation, maximal joint profit and maximal ingroup difference. The results have shown that ingroup bias occured causing loss of money compared to the alternative of maximal joint profit. As a result of assimilation of the self to the ingroup subjects in the experimentally created groups acted as collective actors were motivated to compete. The ingroup members have agreed that „we cannot improve our position or sense of well being unless the outgroup is doing less well then we are.” (Brewer, 2001. in Ashnore, Jussim, Wilder, p.24). When resources are attached to intergroup differences the logic of game becomes the guiding principle of the mentality of collective actors as well.

Game theory and social psychology

Game theory added considerable value to social psychology by its core emphasize on the rationality of the parties in conflict. The games people play in life show that their destiny is to live together. The Prisoner’s Dilemma reveals that cooperative and competitive motives are intertwined and can result both in zero-sum and non-zero-sum games. Game theory’s revelation of the intertwining of cooperative and competitive interest in conflict has proven that human conflicts can be viewed as mixtures of cooperative and competitive inclinations and the destructive or constructive course of the conflict will be determined by the actual mixture.

You can open the (larger) image in new window.John von Neumann founded the field of game theory as a mathematical discipline.neumann_full.jpgJohn von Neumann founded the field of game theory as a mathematical discipline.

Conflicts becoming malignant to the point of lose-lose outcome make human life as Hobees used to say „solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. In order to avoid this outcome the actors in conflicts should seek a mutually satisfactory agreement that maximizes their joint outcomes. Game matrices and experimental research have shown that there is a cooperativ potential inherent in conflict.

The insights of game theory give light on the determining factors of reaching the agreement between conflicting parties. The will to cooperate willl depend on the ability to imagine a stable positive agreement seen by each of the conflicting parties as „just”.

People, fortunately, can be trained to manage their relationships. Private companies, government institutions, self-governments and schools are the playgrounds where consultants can work with leaders and representatives in order to cope with tensions stemming from categorization into ingroup and outgroup.

Most of the research on conflict resolution has been explanatory rather then interventionist. Understanding the rationality of the actors revealed by game theory helps to develop empirical knowledge about the nature of intractable, stable conflicts in the hope to solving it by intervention.

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