Part of my undergraduate degree is in psychology. While in that field of study I was given the opportunity to take part in psychology studies for credit, as well as for fun (and money). Out of all of the studies two in particular stood out in my mind. The first paid me to play video games over a 4 hour period. That is not the one I will be discussing today. The second placed students from different ethnic backgrounds together to work on a collaborative task.
The study began by filling out a survey about one’s thoughts regarding a certain ethnic group, followed by being placed in a room with another participant of that ethnic background to work on a task. The task was to play a game of Jenga, where for every piece you successfully move gained you 10cents. You would receive a dollar if your partner caused the Jenga tower to collapse. Following the task, there was an exit survey asking how it was to work with your partner, and your feelings towards them. During the de-briefing I was told the study was to investigate if working together would increase or decrease my positive attitude towards my partner in relation to how we worked on the task.
Instead of playing a regular game of Jenga, I told my partner that we would take turns collapsing the tower. We would alternate every time and capitalized on the amount of money we could make within the 5 minute limit for the task. In total we both left with $10, in addition to the original incentive of taking part in the study. I don’t know if it is because I have a competitive nature, or perhaps it is because both my parents are accountants but that is how I approached the task. I saw it as an inverse Prisoner’s Dilemma, with an easier method of maximizing the benefit for myself.
I feel bad that I may have confounded results, my opinion of my partner was generally neutral, and I rated him on the exit survey not on how I viewed him as a person, but more so on how well he was able to comply with my plan. The silver lining that keeps me from feeling completely bad is that I am sure I made the researchers aware of flaws in their research design, and of ways to refine the instructions given to future participants.