Kim Kardashian’s Prisoner’s Dilemma

I ran a prisoner’s dilemma exercise in my 28-student undergraduate class last week. Each student received a piece of paper with the name of their putative partner in crime on it. Students were told that they could not reveal the name of their partner to their classmates and, per the rules of prisoner’s dilemma, could not communicate with their partner. Unbeknownst to the class, each slip of paper had one of only three names written on it. Twelve students discovered that they had been arrested with Kim Kardashian. Eight  received the name of one female student in the class; the remaining eight received the name of a male student in the class. A greater proportion of students who were paired with Kim Kardashian decided to confess than did the students who were paired with classmates.

When I asked students from the first group why they had decided to confess, they said they didn’t trust Kim Kardashian to be smart or loyal enough to keep silent, which led to a discussion of trust and cooperation among family members, gangs, and, of course, nation-states.