Prisoners Dilemma: Game Show Video and Activity

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At the Stanford Psych One Conference, Bridgette Hard (Stanford University) suggested clips from the British game show Golden Balls. Before covering the prisoners dilemma, show students the first 2.5 minutes of this 4-minute video.

Stop the video at the 2:40 mark.

Walk students through the prisoners dilemma, and then make sure students understand how this British game show presents contestants with a version of this dilemma. Note that in the original prisoners dilemma, the “prisoners” can’t communicate with each other before making their decision. Allowing contestants to discuss adds a level of drama that makes for good TV, but certainly changes the nature of the dilemma itself.

Before playing the rest of clip, ask students to consider what they would do if they were Golden Balls contestant Steven. If you use a clicker system, ask students to click in with their vote for split or steal. Ask students to consider what they would do if they were contestant Sara. Again, ask students to click in with their vote.

Now play the rest of the clip. After the contestants give their soundbites at the end, give students a few minutes to discuss with each other their reactions to the contestants’ comments.

Next, show a contestant who chose a different strategy in this 4-minute clip. (This clip starts with the contestants’ discussion.)

At that same Stanford Psych One Conference, Garth Neufeld (Highline College, but soon to be at Cascadia Community College), reported that the good folks at Radiolab interviewed these contestants in a 20-minute episode. In the first few minutes the Radiolab hosts lay out the premise of the game, then segue into discussing the clip from first episode above before launching into discussing the clip from the second episode. At about the 11-minute mark, the Radiolab hosts get Nick, of the different strategy, on the phone. During that interview we learn that even though the edited version of Nick and Ibrahim’s discussion that eventually aired was about 4 minutes, the actual, unedited – and apparently heated – discussion was 45 minutes. At the 18-minute mark of the Radiolab interview, we hear exactly how brilliant Nick’s strategy was.

If you’re feeling a little – let’s call it adventurous – you can now do a version of what Dylan Selterman (University of Maryland) does (read more here). Selterman gives this question on his final exam:

Here you have the opportunity to earn some extra credit on your final paper grade. Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added onto your final paper grade. But there’s a small catch: if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points. Your responses will be anonymous to the rest of the class, only I will see the responses.

You can add such a question to an exam or as a separate question delivered through your course management system. Or if you use some type of clicker system and you want students to publicly discuss, ask the question in class.

How many times has Selterman given the extra credit between when he started offering it in 2008 and when he was interviewed about it in 2015? Once.

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.