gray-large.pngThe Economist last week had an article titled: ” ‘Snot fair!“. This brief article in turn is based on an experiment conducted by Nichola Raihani of University College, London, and Katherine McAuliffe of Harvard which was written up in BiologyToday.

The experiment’s goal is to determine what triggers people to punish cheats. Is it based on a sense of simple revenge (i.e. [negative] “reciprocity”)? Or do people want to punish cheaters because the cheater “makes off” at the expense of the cheated (i.e. “inequity aversion” or for lawyers the remedy of “restitution“).

The experiment, which takes some time to digest, basically involves three different versions of the same game. In each version, 70 cents is provided to the “player opponent” (that’s my term).

Then, the “other player” is given 10 cents in one version; 30 cents in another; and an equal 70 cents in the third game version. [Confusingly, the “other player” is defined as P2 in Biology Today, but perhaps more accurately – at least for explanatory purposes in The Economist – as “the first player”.]

As to the first play, the “other player” is given the opportunity to cheat by taking away 20 cents from the “player opponent”. Interestingly, this cheating occurred roughly equal throughout the three different versions of the game at about 12%.

So, if the “other player”cheated, the results in the three game versions would be an initial “player opponent”/“other player” spread of: (a) 50¢/30¢ cents; (b) 50¢/50¢; or (c) 50¢/90¢.

Good! Now the fun begins. The “other player” was then given the opportunity for payback. In each case, the “other player” could pay 10 cents to punish (or perhaps just have a little fun if there had not been initial cheating by) “the player opponent” which would reduce the “player opponent’s” kitty by 20 cents.

The end result after a “score settling” [that’s a term I insert into the fun of all of this], would be: (a) 40¢/10¢; (b) 40¢/30¢; or (c) 40¢/70¢.

Well, what happened? Before I can be completely sure, I want to wait for the write-up provided in the print journal. But, the abstracted conclusion is that the fact of a disparity does not drive retaliation against [petty] cheats …

Instead, it is the fact that the cheats have advanced at the expense of the one who has been cheated.

I find this extremely interesting. This information should give us pause to consider how we want to punish those who cheat society like this “horrific joker” in Aurora, Colorado just over a week ago.

It also should allow us to think more carefully about our Court’s equitable side to fashion remedies via restitution.

Yet, we should also step back and note that these are low stakes in an experimental game. In stark contrast, “the game” involving boundary disputants is perceived by them to be very real; immediate; and recurring in that they see their losses every day.

For those that can afford to play to win a boundary dispute contest – “Good on ya!” But deep down you know that you are flushing resources down the tubes.

For those that cannot afford to play to win a boundary dispute contest – “Don’t just roll over!” But don’t try to swing an axe you can’t carry either.

For those of you who regardless of your relative strength of position via RealPolitik, regardless if strong, weak, or an even match – Don’t seek to fight.

Instead, seek to settle the matter peacefully through negotiations.

Why? Because if one of the neighbors continues to feel wronged, there will be no peace between the neighbors and new opportunities to fight will undoubtedly arise.gray-small.png