The Prisoner`s Dilemma and City-Centre Traffic

Dec 2001 | 85

Authors: Vijay Joshi, Mary Sissons Joshi, Psychology Department, Oxford Brookes University Roger Lamb, Psychology Department, Oxford Brookes University


It is commonly asserted that such problems as inner-city traffic congestion and pollution can be understood as examples of the Prisoner`s Dilemma Game (PD), but there is a dearth of empirical research that tests this assertion. 587 car owners in Oxford City were presented with three pairs of alternatives designed as traffic versions of the four outcomes of the PD, and asked to state which alternative in each pair they preferred. Only 2% of respondents showed the full set of preferences which fit the PD. Four sets of preferences accounted for 93% of responses suggesting that no single canonical game structure can represent the traffic problem. The most common set of preferences, shown by 48% of respondents fitted as `Assurance Game`. The results imply that the current traffic problem may be due to lack of assurance and trust rather than raw self-interest. The public policy implications of the data are discussed.
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