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social dilemmas


Subject Psychology

Key-Topics social issues

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631202899.1996.x


“There should be a law against social dilemmas.” This summarizes a famous statement made by Luce and Raiffa (1957) that underlines the potential destructiveness of social dilemmas. Social dilemmas are characterized as situations in which private interests are at odds with the collective interests. They arise because we often tend to let our own short-term interest determine what we are going to do, without sufficient consideration of the associated longer-term consequences to all of the persons involved. As a consequence we might face a situation in which we regret having acted the way we have. There are numerous social problems which can be viewed from the perspective of social dilemmas. Overpopulation, one of the most critical problems of our age, is easily understood as such a situation. Problems of overuse of resources and underuse of strategies to protect the environment also seem to be natural examples. Failure to vote in democratic elections has been explained in such a way, as have productivity declines in collective workplaces. People's reluctance to take collective actions that could be collectively beneficial (joining labor unions, going out on strike) but personally costly, at least in the short run, are easily understood from the perspective of social dilemmas. These examples of social dilemmas are in conflict with Adam Smith's famous notion of the beneficent “invisible ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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