Loyal reader “Mr. H” points us to some recent improbable research from the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization (JEBO*) that analyzes the classic prisoners’ dilemma game.  The big story here is that the authors ran the experiments using actual prisoners!  Specifically, they surveyed about 92 women from a prison “für Frauen” along with 90 college students as a control group, and they found that prisoners were actually more likely to cooperate (keep their mouths’ shut)  in some situations.

Here’s from the abstract:

We compare female inmates and students in a simultaneous and a sequential Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the simultaneous Prisoner’s Dilemma, the cooperation rate among inmates exceeds the rate of cooperating students.

In the conventional setup, of course, cooperation means not ratting out your criminal partner.  So what do the differential rates tell you — snitches get stitches?

Relative to the simultaneous dilemma, cooperation among first-movers in the sequential Prisoner’s Dilemma increases for students, but not for inmates. Students and inmates behave identically as second movers. Hence, we find a similar and significant fraction of inmates and students to hold social preferences.

Now what does that tell you?  I’m not sure.


* For those of you keeping track, that’s pronounced “Gee bow”.