Wetenschap - 22 juni 1995

Playing Games Gives Insight Into Efficacy

Playing Games Gives Insight Into Efficacy

Looking at the results of experimental games to see whether people in social dilemmas choose to act in cooperation or not, was the topic of the colloquium held last week in Wageningen by Dr. Norbert Kerr of Michigan State University.

The American Social Psychologist, presently in the Netherlands as a guest lecturer at the University of Leiden, has identified trends in how individuals and groups choose to cooperate, on the basis of their perception of the likelihood of their contribution achieving the ultimate outcome. By using a Public-Goods Game (where a certain number of people have to cooperate to attain the benefits for everyone) Dr. Kerr discovered that even when the problem remained the same, the efficacy of the of individual could vary depending on how that problem was described.

When an example was used of 100,000 farmers using water from one lake, and the dilemma of having to convince at least 50,000 farmers to cut back on their pesticide use in order to save the water supply, the efficacy of the individual was much lower than if the dilemma was described in terms of 4 farmers sharing a well and at least 2 needed to reduce pesticide use in order to maintain a healthy water source.

The question of how capable groups are of solving social dilemmas is different, however. Besides the size of a group, Dr. Kerr emphasized that past experiences may play an important role in efficacy. Where attempts are made to solve complex multi-layered problems, he has proven that starting by solving the easiest problem, and achieving success early on, is likely to encourage further cooperation. Building solidarity and getting those involved to make promises to each other has also proved to be another way of encouraging cooperation, which is an important task for the agricultural extension worker.