Friday, July 08, 2005

The nuts game

An oldie but a goodie, mentioned by its creator, Julian Edney, in the latest PAE newsletter. It's a simple economic game, illustrating the exploitation of scarce resources:

"A small number of subjects (three or more) sit around a shallow, nonbreakable, open bowl which initially contains 10 hardware hexagonal nuts. An experimenter sits with the group and introduces the exercise as one where the player's goal is to get as many of the nuts as possible. Players can take nuts from the bowl at any time and in any quantities after the start of the trial. The experimenter also explains that the number of nuts remaining in the bowl after each 10-second interval is automatically doubled from an outside source (operated by the experimenter, who manually replenishes the nuts from a separate container next to him). This replenishment cycle continues until either an arbitrary time limit is reached or the bowl is emptied by the players. The experimenter can also set a ceiling to the number of nuts in the bowl throughout the trial (10 is convenient). Subjects can be asked not to communicate.
"To maximize their individual 'harvests' of nuts, one would expect that each subject would restrain himself to taking one or two nuts out of the bowl each 10-second period: this allows the replenishment cycles to continue for some time (a typical game runs 2 minutes) and each subject eventually would end up with a sizeable score. In pilot work I have found that approximately 65% of groups never in practice reach the first replenishment stage because they exhaust the pool by taking all the nuts out in the first few moments of the game."

More here, including some working solutions arising from discussion between the players:

"So far, results have suggested two main types of solution: (a) those involving numbers (such as the group which decides systematically to take only 'one' or 'two' nuts per person per 10-second interval; this type of solution is quite effective in preserving the pool) and (b) nonnumerical solutions. An interesting illustration of the latter was a group which decided deliberately to use a rather complicated system of harvesting. Each player had to hook each nut out of the bowl with a pencil, place it on his nose, walk over to a nearby chalkboard, and deposit the nut in the tray before returning for another nut. Harvesting was thus slowed down enough to prevent pool depletion, increasing individual scores, and incidentally making the game more entertaining to players. The evolution of both kinds of solutions can be regarded as analogs to community-generated laws and practices for direct and indirect governance and management of resources in real-world situations."



Post a Comment

<< Home