Social trap

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In psychology, a social trap is a situation in which a group of people act to obtain short-term individual gains, which in the long run leads to a loss for the group as a whole. Examples of social traps include overfishing, energy "brownout" and "blackout" power outages during periods of extreme temperatures, the overgrazing of cattle on the Sahelian Desert, and the destruction of the rainforest by logging interests and agriculture.[ citation needed ]

Psychology is the science of human behavior and mind. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. It is an academic discipline of immense scope. Psychologists seek an understanding of the emergent properties of brains, and all the variety of phenomena linked to those emergent properties, joining this way the broader neuroscientific group of researchers. As a social science it aims to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles and researching specific cases.

Overfishing the act whereby fish stocks are depleted to unacceptable levels, regardless of water body size

Overfishing is the removal of a species of fish from a body of water at a rate that the species cannot replenish in time, resulting in those species either becoming depleted or very underpopulated in that given area. Overfishing has spread all over the globe and has been present for centuries.

Power outage loss of electric power to an area

A power outage is the loss of the electrical power network supply to an end user.

Contents

Origin of the concept

The term social trap was first introduced to the scientific community by John Platt's 1973 paper in American Psychologist , [1] and in a book developed in an interdisciplinary symposium held at the University of Michigan. [2] Building upon the concept of the "tragedy of the commons" in Garrett Hardin's pivotal article in Science (1968), [3] Platt and others in the seminar applied behavioral psychology concepts to actions of people operating in social traps. By applying the findings of basic research on "schedules of operant reinforcement" (B.F. Skinner 1938, 1948, 1953, 1957; Keller and Schoenfeld, 1950), Platt recognized that individuals operating for short-term positive gain ("reinforcement") had a tendency to over-exploit a resource, which led to a long-term overall loss to society.

<i>American Psychologist</i> journal

American Psychologist is the official peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Psychological Association. The journal publishes timely high-impact articles of broad interest. Papers include empirical reports and scholarly reviews covering science, practice, education, and policy. Current editor-in-chief is Anne E. Kazak, PhD, ABPP.

University of Michigan Public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States

The University of Michigan, often simply referred to as Michigan, is a public research university in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The university is Michigan's oldest; it was founded in 1817 in Detroit, as the Catholepistemiad, or University of Michigania, 20 years before the territory became a state. The school was moved to Ann Arbor in 1837 onto 40 acres (16 ha) of what is now known as Central Campus. Since its establishment in Ann Arbor, the university campus has expanded to include more than 584 major buildings with a combined area of more than 34 million gross square feet spread out over a Central Campus and North Campus, two regional campuses in Flint and Dearborn, and a Center in Detroit. The university is a founding member of the Association of American Universities.

Tragedy of the commons A theoretical concept concerning the allocation of shared, open access resources

The tragedy of the commons is a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users, by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action. The theory originated in an essay written in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land in Great Britain and Ireland. The concept became widely known as the "tragedy of the commons" over a century later due to an article written by the American biologist and philosopher Garrett Hardin in 1968. In this modern economic context, "commons" is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, roads and highways, or even an office refrigerator.

The application of behavioral psychology terms to behaviors in the tragedy of the commons led to the realization that the same short-term/long-term cause-effect relationship also applied to other human traps, in addition to the exploitation of commonly held resources. Platt et al. also introduced the terms social fence and individual trap. Social fence refers to a short-term avoidance behavior by individuals that leads to a long-term loss to the entire group. [1] An example is the anecdote of a mattress that falls from a vehicle on a two lane highway. Motorists tend to back up in a traffic jam behind the mattress, waiting for a break in the oncoming traffic to pass around the mattress. Each individual motorist avoids the opportunity to exit their stopped car and pull the mattress to the side of the road. The long-term consequence of this avoidance behavior is that all of the motorists (except for perhaps one) arrived at their destinations later than they would have if an individual had removed the mattress barrier.

An individual trap is similar to a social trap except that it involves the behavior of only a single person rather than a group of people. The basic concept is that an individual's behavior for short-term reinforcers leads to a long-term loss for the individual. Examples of individual traps are tobacco smoking leading to lung cancer or alcohol ingestion leading to cirrhosis of the liver.

Tobacco smoking practice of burning tobacco and inhaling the resulting smoke

Tobacco smoking is the practice of smoking tobacco and inhaling tobacco smoke. A broader definition may include simply taking tobacco smoke into the mouth, and then releasing it, as is done by some with tobacco pipes and cigars. The practice is believed to have begun as early as 5000–3000 BC in Mesoamerica and South America. Tobacco was introduced to Eurasia in the late 17th century by European colonists, where it followed common trade routes. The practice encountered criticism from its first import into the Western world onwards but embedded itself in certain strata of a number of societies before becoming widespread upon the introduction of automated cigarette-rolling apparatus.

Lung cancer cancer in the lung

Lung cancer, also known as lung carcinoma, is a malignant lung tumor characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. This growth can spread beyond the lung by the process of metastasis into nearby tissue or other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in the lung, known as primary lung cancers, are carcinomas. The two main types are small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) and non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). The most common symptoms are coughing, weight loss, shortness of breath, and chest pains.

Alcohol (drug) active ingredient in alcoholic beverages

Alcohol, sometimes referred to by the chemical name ethanol, is a psychoactive drug that is the active ingredient in drinks such as beer, wine, and distilled spirits. It is one of the oldest and most common recreational substances, causing the characteristic effects of alcohol intoxication ("drunkenness"). Among other effects, alcohol produces a mood lift and euphoria, decreased anxiety, increased sociability, sedation, impairment of cognitive, memory, motor, and sensory function, and generalized depression of central nervous system function. Ethanol is only one of several types of alcohol, but it is the only type of alcohol that is found in alcoholic beverages or commonly used for recreational purposes; other alcohols such as methanol and isopropyl alcohol are toxic.

First empirical test and the use of superimposed schedules of reinforcement

The first empirical test of the concept of social traps was by Brechner at Arizona State University, [4] [5] who operationalized the concepts underlying Platt et al.'s theoretical analysis. By creating a laboratory game, Brechner had groups of college students playing a game where they could accumulate points by pressing buttons for the individual short-term positive rewards of experimental credit in their introductory psychology classes. Players could see a lighted display that indicated the total quantity of points available at any given time in the experiment. Players were told that if they completely drained the pool of points, the game was over and they could not accumulate more points. By responding for points at a moderate rate all the players in the group could accumulate enough points to fulfill their entire semester's experimental requirements. But if one or more players took points for themselves at too fast a rate, the pool would be drained of points and none of the players would achieve the maximum potential experimental credit.

Arizona State University Public university located in the Phoenix metropolitan area, Arizona, United States

Arizona State University is a public metropolitan research university on five campuses across the Phoenix metropolitan area, and four regional learning centers throughout Arizona.

Operationalization process of defining the measurement of a phenomenon that is not directly measurable, though its existence is indicated by other phenomena

In research design, especially in psychology, social sciences, life sciences, and physics, operationalization is a process of defining the measurement of a phenomenon that is not directly measurable, though its existence is inferred by other phenomena. Operationalization thus defines a fuzzy concept so as to make it clearly distinguishable, measurable, and understandable by empirical observation. In a broader sense, it defines the extension of a concept—describing what is and is not an instance of that concept. For example, in medicine, the phenomenon of health might be operationalized by one or more indicators like body mass index or tobacco smoking. As another example, in visual processing the presence of a certain object in the environment could be inferred by measuring specific features of the light it reflects. In these examples, the phenomena are difficult to directly observe and measure because they are general/abstract or they are latent. Operationalization helps infer the existence, and some elements of the extension, of the phenomena of interest by means of some observable and measurable effects they have.

In building the laboratory analogy of social traps, Brechner introduced the concept of "superimposed schedules of reinforcement". Skinner and Ferster (1957) [6] had demonstrated that reinforcers could be delivered on schedules (schedule of reinforcement), and further that organisms behaved differently under different schedules. Rather than a reinforcer, such as food or water, being delivered every time as a consequence of some behavior, a reinforcer could be delivered after more than one instance of the behavior. For example, a pigeon may be required to peck a button switch five times before food is made available to the pigeon. This is called a "ratio schedule". Also, a reinforcer could be delivered after an interval of time passed following a target behavior. An example is a rat that is given a food pellet one minute after the rat pressed a lever. This is called an "interval schedule". In addition, ratio schedules can deliver reinforcement following fixed or variable number of behaviors by the individual organism. Likewise, interval schedules can deliver reinforcement following fixed or variable intervals of time following a single response by the organism. Individual behaviors tend to generate response rates that differ based upon how the reinforcement schedule is created. Much subsequent research in many labs examined the effects on behaviors of scheduling reinforcers.

Rat several genera of rodents

Rats are various medium-sized, long-tailed rodents. Species of rats are found throughout the order Rodentia, but stereotypical rats are found in the genus Rattus. Other rat genera include Neotoma, Bandicota and Dipodomys.

When an organism is offered the opportunity to choose between or among two or more simple schedules of reinforcement at the same time, the reinforcement structures are called "concurrent schedules of reinforcement". In creating the laboratory analogy of social traps, Brechner created a situation where simple reinforcement schedules were superimposed upon each other. In other words, a single response or group of responses by an organism led to multiple consequences. Concurrent schedules of reinforcement can be thought of as "or" schedules, and superimposed schedules of reinforcement can be thought of as "and" schedules.

To simulate social traps a short-term positive reward is superimposed upon a long-term negative consequence. In the specific experiment, the short-term positive reinforcer was earning points that applied to class credits. The long-term negative consequence was that each point earned by a player also drained the pool of available points. Responding too rapidly for short-term gains led to the long-term loss of draining the resource pool. What makes the traps social is that any individual can respond in a way that the long-term consequence also comes to bear on the other individuals in the environment.

Superimposed schedules of reinforcement have many real-world applications in addition to generating social traps (Brechner and Linder, 1981; Brechner, 1987; Brechner, 2010). Many different human individual and social situations can be created by superimposing simple reinforcement schedules. For example, a human being could have simultaneous tobacco and alcohol addictions. Even more complex situations can be created or simulated by superimposing two or more concurrent schedules. For example, a high school senior could have a choice between going to Stanford University or UCLA, and at the same time have the choice of going into the Army or the Air Force, and simultaneously the choice of taking a job with an internet company or a job with a software company. That would be a reinforcement structure of three superimposed concurrent schedules of reinforcement. An example of the use of superimposed schedules as a tool in the analysis of the contingencies of rent control can be found online in the website "Economic and Game Theory Forum", (Brechner, 2003).

Subsequent experimentation

Subsequent empirical studies by other researchers explored aspects of social traps other than the underlying reinforcement structure. Studies tended to concentrate on manipulating social and cognitive variables. Cass and Edney (1978) created a simpler game using a bowl of nuts to simulate a commonly held resource. The Nuts Game as they called it had some distinct advantages over Brechner's electronically wired laboratory simulation. The Nuts Game could be transported easily to any environment in or out of the laboratory. It was simple and required no electronics. The reinforcers used were primary food rewards rather than the secondary conditioned reinforcers of class credit used in the earlier study.

From Platt's and others' initial concept, social trap research has spread to laboratories all over the world and has expanded into the fields of sociology, economics, institutional design, and the nuclear arms race. [7] Summaries of the many other diverse studies of social traps can be found in Messick and McClelland (1983), Costanza (1984), Komorita and Parks (1996), and Rothstein (2005).

Social trap research continues to be an active area. Urlacher (2008) devised an iterated version of the prisoner's dilemma game using groups of people, or "agents", pitted against other groups of agents, in a variation he termed a "two-level social trap". [8] He reported that when using a democratic decision rule, larger groups behaved more cooperatively than smaller groups. Chuang, Rivoire, and Liebler (2009) constructed a non-mammalian commons dilemma using colonies of the bacteria Escherichia coli composed of strains of producer and nonproducer microbes that contribute (or do not contribute) to the common resource in an examination of the statistical concept of Simpson's paradox. [9]

In 2010, Shaimaa Lazem and Denis Gračanin, in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech, took social traps to a new level: Into cyberspace. They performed a replication of the original social trap experiment, but created the social trap in the internet virtual world known as Second Life (Lazem and Gračanin, 2010). They constructed a virtual experimental laboratory with the subjects responding through avatars. The findings mirrored the original study, by finding that the ability to communicate led to greater replenishment of common resources.

See also

Notes

  1. 1 2 Platt, J. (1973). "Social Traps". American Psychologist. 28 (8): 641–651. doi:10.1037/h0035723.
  2. Cross, J. G. & Guyer, M. J. (1980). Social Traps. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN   0-472-06315-4.
  3. Hardin, G. (1968). "The Tragedy of the Commons". Science. 162 (3859): 1243–1248. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243. PMID   5699198.
  4. Brechner, K. C. (1974). "An experimental analysis of social traps: A laboratory analog". Ph.D. Dissertation. Arizona State University.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. Brechner, K. C. (1977). "An experimental analysis of social traps". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 13 (6): 552–564. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(77)90054-3.
  6. Skinner, B. F.; Ferster, C. B. (1957). Schedules of Reinforcement. ISBN   0-13-792309-0.
  7. Costanza, R. (1984). "Review Essay: The nuclear arms race and the theory of social traps". Journal of Peace Research. 21 (1): 79–86. doi:10.1177/002234338402100106.
  8. Urlacher, B. L. (2008). "Walking out of two-level social traps (with a little help from my friends)". Simulation & Gaming. 39 (4): 453–464. doi:10.1177/1046878107311379.
  9. Chuang, J. S.; Rivoire, O. & Leibler, S. (2009). "Simpson's paradox in a synthetic microbial system". Science. 323 (5911): 272–275. doi:10.1126/science.1166739. PMID   19131632.

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