Leveraging Game Theory To Improve Inter-personal Relationships

gametheory

Ego can ruin relationships.

Imagine a husband-wife or a girl-boy couple, who has had a fight over something. After the fight they may both realize their own mistakes.

But, often they will not come forward and confess it…

Why?

Well, because they do not want to take the 1st step. They feel that taking the 1st step forward will be considered a sign of guilt/weakness.

Both of them are thinking in the same manner. So both of them stay put.

The result is an unwanted and sub-optimal situation.

They both would have loved to confess their own mistakes and patch up the relationship. Instead, they both end up not confessing.

This type of a situation is referred to as a Nash Equilibrium in Game Theory.

Game theory is typically applied in Business and Political situations. But, it can also be applied in inter-personal situations. Watch the movie A beautiful mind, to see Russell Crowe (playing John Nash) apply it for picking up girls in a bar!

In our case, the husband’s strategy of not saying Sorry (i.e. No) strictly dominates the strategy of saying sorry (i.e. Yes). This is because his No gives him better payoff in both cases of his wife either choosing Yes or No.

Same logic applies to the wife, and so the strategy of not saying Sorry (i.e. No) strictly dominates the strategy of saying sorry (i.e. Yes).

So, both end up not saying sorry.

So, we can see that game theory provides a good tool to understand inter-personal dynamics.

But, how can this tool help us improve our inter-personal relationships?

Below is an answer.

Please look at the payoff matrix once more.

What if somehow we could make each player get to know the other person’s confession status only after he himself has confessed?

If this were to happen, the payoff matrix will look as below:

The red and yellow circles depict the changes.

In case of red circles, the payoff for both players have now changed from Very Happy to Sad. This is because now each player gets to know the other person’s confession status only when he individually has confessed! So, in effect his pay off in case of (No, Yes) is same as his payoff in case of (No, No).

In case of yellow circles, the payoff for both players have now changed from Very Sad to Sad. This is because now each player who confesses does not face the egoproblem. He knows that there is no way for the other person to know whether he has confessed or not! So, in effect his pay off in case of (Yes, No) is same as his payoff in case of (No, No).

But, how to ensure that each player gets to know the other person’s confession statusonly when he individually has confessed?

Very easy.

All, we need is a computer program with the following algorithm:

If both parties have confessed, relay their confessions to each other; else do not do anything!

 

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