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A professor at the University of Maryland threw his class a curveball when he allowed them to each choose how many extra credit points they wanted to add to their final paper grade.
Sounds generous right? Well, not really.
Here’s what Professor Dylan Selterman positioned for his students:
Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added onto your final paper grade. But there’s a small catch: if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points.
Shahin Rafikian, a junior at the University, snapped a picture of the question and tweeted it. Now his tweet has over 7,000 retweets, mostly because people are agonizing over making the right choice.
Here’s why they’re having a hard time!
Selterman is demonstrating the “Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Buzzfeed News reports. It’s concept in game theory in which a signaling problem inevitably leads to an unfavorable outcome.
Here’s how it works: Two conspiring prisoners are arrested and questioned in separate rooms, with no way to communicate. If they both confess, they will be sentenced to two years in prison. If neither confess, they will both receive only one year in prison. The latter is obviously the best option, explains the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
The catch: If one confesses and the other doesn’t, the prisoner who confesses will go free and the silent prisoner will serve a 3 year sentence. Thus presents the problem — the temptation of going free. Ideally, neither prisoner would confess, but by presenting the temptation, it’s now more likely both will confess and both will end up serve a longer sentence.
In the case of Selterman’s class, the students are the prisoners. All would benefit from two additional points on their final papers, but the majority will give in to the temptation of six additional points. As a result, no one will get extra credit.
He’s been presenting the dilemma to students since 2008, but Selterman says only one class has successfully received an extra two points each.
It was not this year’s class.