The name of the game

Photo by lrargerich


Many of you are probably familiar with the famous prisoner’s dilemma. Some of the research around this dilemma focuses on how to create cooperation in situations where each participant has a clear incentive to act in a self-serving way or “defect”. Standard economic theory predicts, generally speaking, that people will always “defect”, as this is the best option for them. However, many experiments have shown that people cooperate (at least to begin with) and do not adhere to the predictions of the standard economic theory.

One of the more interesting effects on people’s cooperation rates came from a simple manipulation of the name of the game. When the game is called: “The Wall-Street Game” people tend more to defect and act in a self-serving way. However, when the game is titled: “The Community Game”, people tend to cooperate more.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how language matters. And I think this is another illustration of it. We carry so many assumptions with us into every setting we walk into. And the names and language we use determines our attitudes and influences our behavior.

And I ask you this: Is your team playing “The Wall-Street Game” or “The Community Game”? What kind of language are you using and what kinds of assumptions are present at your organization? If you want your team to cooperate, maybe you should consider changing the same of the game.



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