Social traps are situations in which individual rationality dictates one course of action, collective rationality another. If all participants are guided by individual rationality, all are worse off than if they had acted in a collectively rational manner. These situations can be simulated by very simple games. The way people play these games reflects the relative weights of individual or collective rationality in their behaviour.
In the two-year research project (funded by SSHRC at the U of Toronto) just concluded, the subjects were of different backgrounds: professionals business people, employees, students. Interesting differences were noted in their behaviour in social trap games. Among the games used was “Tragedy of the Commons”. illustrating the disastrous consequences of unrestrained exploitation of limited resources. The results indicated that even when the nature of a social trap is explained, collectively rational behaviour in the Tragedy of the Commons is rarely observed.
– Anatol Rapoport, Principal Investigator