We wrapped up our last series of financial life lessons for kids — which talked about understanding debt — with a fun game. However fun it may have been for the kids, though, it was based on serious topics in the realm of game theory. I’m introducing the next set of lessons with another game that your kids will love, but that also teaches communication skills.
Communication skills scenario: “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”
The “Prisoner’s Dilemma” is a classic example of game theory that has been analyzed and utilized by researchers for over 70 years. It has wide-ranging applications in real life, including human and animal behavior… and even economics! Fortunately, it can be used in an entertaining way to teach a valuable lesson; here’s how to do it.
Pick two kids (or one, if you are going to play) to be the criminal masterminds. Much like last week, the participants will not know the choice made by the other; the two criminals have been taken downtown and put in separate rooms where they cannot corroborate their stories.
Then, present a choice to each dastardly suspect: CONFESS or remain SILENT.
After they make a choice, determine the outcome of the game based on the following four options:
- If suspect A CONFESSES and suspect B remains SILENT: A gets a 6-month sentence while B gets a whole year in the slammer.
- If suspect A remains SILENT and suspect B CONFESSES: B gets a 6-month sentence while A gets a whole year in the slammer.
- If suspect A CONFESSES and suspect B CONFESSES: both A and B get an 8-month sentence.
- If suspect A remains SILENT and suspect B remains SILENT: both A and B are released due to a lack of evidence.
In the best outcome, both say nothing and go free. However — since neither knows what the other will do — keeping quiet is risky. If one snitches and the other stays silent, the rat gets a lighter sentence while the quiet partner suffers, and that is the nature of the game.
The lesson of the Prisoner’s Dilemma
The takeaway here is that without communication, it is highly unlikely that the participants will make choices that lead to the best possible outcome.
Make a poster board chart like last week!
After the game, help the kids understand how easy it would be for both to go free if they are able to talk to each other and work together. Cooperation is key to optimal success!
This is the concept on which our next lessons will be built! (To catch up on past lessons, see here.)