minimal social situation

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An interactive decision in which each decision maker is ignorant of the interactive nature of the decision and even of the existence of another decision maker whose actions affect the outcomes, first investigated by the US psychologist Joseph B(oleslaus) Sidowski (born 1925) and his colleagues and published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology in 1956 and the Journal of Experimental Psychology in 1957. In the original experiment, pairs of participants or subjects were seated in separate rooms, unaware of each other's existence, with electrodes attached to their bodies, each individual operating an apparatus with a pair of buttons labelled L and R and a digital display showing the cumulative number of points scored. They pressed one button at a time as often as required with the twin goals of obtaining rewards (points) and avoiding punishments (electric shocks). The rewards and punishments were arranged according to a mutual fate control payoff structure such that whenever either individual pressed L, the other was rewarded with points, and whenever either pressed R, the other was punished with electric shock; but a choice had no direct effect on the individual who made it. As Sidowski and his colleagues were the first to demonstrate, in such situations people generally learn to coordinate their choices to their mutual benefit, although they are unaware of their interdependence, and in the long run pairs often settle down to choosing L on every occasion. The minimal social situation is often confused with the minimal group situation. See also win-stay, lose-change strategy.

Subjects: Psychology.

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