Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Prisoner's Dilemma

Below is an excerpt I've copied from my favorite self-help book, "Who's Pulling Your Strings? How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life" by Harriet B. Braiker.

This book has been a life-saver for me, on more than one occasion. On a recent post, fellow-blogger and narc-fighter Vicarious Rising wrote the following insightful comment, "I think the paranoia [of a narcissist] has to do with both the idea that everybody is looking at the narcissist since they are so ├╝ber important and that they are terrified of being revealed as frauds...And they probably also figure that everyone is thinking as deviously as they are, which means they have righteous cause to be paranoid."

The concept of narcissists' extreme paranoia is a fascinating topic for another day, what I'd really like to focus on is the idea that Vicarious mentioned about how narcs "figure that everyone is thinking as deviously as they are." Reading that made me think of the excerpt I'm about to share from my anti-narcissist bible. It's kind of a mind-fuck, but in a good way, in that it'll get you thinking and maybe even answer a few questions for you. (Bolding for emphasis mine):

The Prisoner's Dilemma
by Harriet B. Braiker
Who's Pulling Your Strings (McGraw-Hill, 2004)

A classic social psychology study demonstrates the self-fulfilling prophecy impact of this interpersonal strategy. It is a match called the prisoner's dilemma game in which two people play, and it is sometimes referred to as a game of social domination.

The late, great mathematician Albert W. Tucker developed the game in 1950. In his original game, he conceived the story of two burglars, Bob and Al. The two crooks are captured near the scene of a crime and are taken to police headquarters, where they are split up and placed in separate cells and interrogated. The police tell each of them that things will go easier on them if they confess. Will it?

Each prisoner now has to decide whether or not to confess and implicate his pal. The police tell them that if neither man confesses, they will both go to prison for a year anyway on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. If each of them confesses and implicates the other, then each will go to prison for 10 years. But if only one confesses and implicates the other, then the one who confessed will go free, and the other will serve the maximum sentence of 20 years. How do they decide?

There are only two possible strategies: confess or don't confess. No other option is available. In the following matrix first developed by Tucker, known as the prisoner's dilemma matrix or payoff, you can see the  options open to each prisoner and the consequences of each decision when viewed against the decision of the other prisoner.

Bob's possible consequences are to the left of the comma in each square of the grid, whereas Al's are to the right. If Al and Bob both confess and implicate the other, they each get 10 years. If Al and Bob both clam up, they each get 1 year. However if Al confesses and implicates Bob and Bob does not confess, Al goes free and Bob gets 20 years. And if the reverse is true, where Bob confesses and Al does not, then Bob gets 20 years and Al goes free.

Over the years, many variations of the prisoner's dilemma have been conceived to look at how people cooperate or do not cooperate in social settings. We can view manipulators through the same prism.

In one variation, the matrix labels are changed from "confess / don't confess" to "cooperate / compete." The game is sometimes played by awarding gold coins or dollars, depending on the outcome of each move.

Each person, on any given move, can play to cooperate or to compete. In the game's setup, if both people cooperate on the same move, they both win moderate outcomes ($10). However, if one person cooperates while the other person competes, the cooperator loses  (earn's $0); conversely, the competitor wins big ($20). This is the zero-sum outcome - one winner and one loser. Finally, if both parties choose to compete, they each get only a small win ($1).

A true manipulator will always look at the game by assuming that the person he or she is playing against will compete. Competing is the manipulator's natural mind-set.

However, when you ponder the game, you will realize that the best strategy to maximize both parties' outcome is for them to trust each other to cooperate on every move. If both cooperate, each earns $10 for each move. However, the risk involved is that if you choose to cooperate and the other player competes, you get zero and your opponent wins $20.

People who play with the manipulator's mind-set believe that everyone will automatically play to win - or to maximize gain and minimize loss on each turn - by playing competitively. However, this option will only work best for the competitive player when the opponent plays cooperatively. The competitor gets $20, and the cooperator gets $0.

Manipulators always play the competitive move. When they first sit down to play with an opponent, they make the competitive move. Sometimes, their opponent will make a cooperative move on the first try; sometimes he will not. However, given that the manipulator continues to play competitively, the originally cooperative opponent has no choice but to change his tactics into also being a nontrusting competitor. In this way, the opponent will improve his score by $1 (up from $0) and in so doing also reduce the manipulator's score to $1.

On the other hand, consider the experience of people who examine the matrix and choose on their first move to play cooperatively, trusting the other player to also cooperate so that each gets $10 on every move. If both players do play cooperatively, over 10 moves, each will accrue $100. As long as both players continue to play cooperatively - that is, by trusting one another - their gain will be guaranteed over the course of the game.

However, if a cooperative person gets burned by a competitive person on the first few rounds, the only option to the trusting person is to switch strategies and become competitive too - just as a defense.

Studies of behavior in the prisoner's dilemma game show that cooperators have varied experiences playing the game. Sometimes they meet other cooperators and they both walk away happy. At other times, though, they meet competitors whose distrustful, self-aggrandizing strategy makes the cooperator shift by necessity to a competitive strategy as defense. Very few people will continue to play cooperatively throughout the game when faced with a competitor. When asked to summarize their feelings after several rounds playing with different people, the cooperators may shrug their shoulders and say that it's just like life: There are all different sorts of people.

On the other hand, competitive players almost always wind up having the same experience that both players compete in the game. Because the competitive (manipulative) payer converts his opponent to a competitive strategy (but will not allow himself to be similarly converted to a cooperative strategy because cooperation requires interpersonal trust), his experience with others is not varied. His own behavior creates competition in others and thereby validates his original view that that others are not to be trusted.

Using the prisoner's dilemma game as a model for life, you can readily see that manipulators who inherently distrust others and project their own competitive impulses on others actually will create the very social world they imagine. Their life experience will wind up confirming their belief system, although they typically do not understand how their own distrusting behavior creates distrust, competition, and rivalry in others.

The pattern captured by the essence of the gaming model shows how and why manipulators rationalize their view that life is a dog-eat-dog game where each person must do what is necessary to advance his own personal needs even if it is at the expense of others. Manipulators believe that this behavior is justified because they believe that other people will do the same to them.

Think how this mind-set can affect and poison an interpersonal relationship. Trusting people who allow for the possibility that other can, on occasion, choose to behave altruistically and/or generously or, as in the prisoner's dilemma game, others can choose to cooperate because it is rational and adaptive will be open to the possibility of trusting relationships. If you approach the world with an open but realistic attitude that allows for both kinds of people - trusting souls and self-promoting competitors - your experiences will mirror your expectations. You likely will meet both kinds of people who have the opportunity to form relationships in which mutual trust and cooperation exist and are cherished by both participants.

In cooperation and trust lies the context for mutual respect and healthy interdependence - the blend of autonomy and interdependence that makes intimacy, high self-esteem, strong sense of self, and solid self-reliance possible.

However, the realistic cooperator also knows that competitive manipulators exist in the world; when the competitive opponent is met, the cooperator can adjust and adapt his or her behavior accordingly. You do not have to reward manipulators by allowing their exploitative behavior and tactics to work.

Summary: Manipulation derives from a mind-set and world-view that allows it to be rationalized and denied. Trying to get a manipulator to change by setting a good example and allowing yourself to be exploited only rewards his or her manipulative tactics.

The best chance you have to change a manipulator is to stop rewarding her tactics. Manipulation persists because it works. It is effective. As long as a manipulator gets you to comply with her needs and give in to her control, she will continue to relate to you in a manipulative fashion.

To change a manipulator, you must change your own behavior. The manipulator wants to advance her personal gain and self-interest and simply does not care if this happens at the expense of your interests, well-being, piece of mind, or psychological or physical health. When you learn to block her tactics effectively with moves of your own...you will block the manipulator and gradually stop allowing yourself to be manipulated.

When her manipulation stops working, the manipulators self-interest will be better served by switching methods or - and you must accept this possibility at the onset - by switching relationships altogether. Blocking the manipulator's tactics may not result in losing the relationship. However, you must confront the possibility in order to embrace your freedom and to find the way out of the destructive pattern of exploitation and manipulation in which you may be enmeshed. If you are not willing to lose the relationship - even when it means losing yourself int he process - then you are not ready to stop being a victim.

Finally, people are not always consistent with respect to the role they play in relationships. Many manipulators have learned their craft of control from participation in relationships in which they were the victims. Sometimes people who have been subject to aversive manipulation in one relationship vow to never be in the victim role again; instead, they successfully position themselves to be the manipulator in their next relationship.

1 comment:

  1. We talked about prisoners dilemma a bit in business school (talk about a hotbed of competitors) and one of the things that always troubled me is that the manipulator winning had fallout beyond the two parties locked in a situation together. It seemed to me like there should be some way to block an entirely self-serving strategy. Alas, that's not the way of the business world or the family I grew up in. It doesn't matter what is the greatest good overall. All manioulatirs care about is their own gain.

    Thanks for pulling up this info. It's a great lesson for those of us locked in conflict with our narcissists. Walking away is a valid choice, and this is a nice way to logically lay it out for those who think that parents are sacred and children owe them respect and honor.

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