The Tragedy of Inner-Individual Dilemmas

Abstract

Social dilemmas specify situations in which (local) egoistic utility optimization prevents achieving the (global) common good of a group. Tragically, in such dilemmas local optimization also reduces the payoff for the individual optimizer. Although social dilemmas essentially reflect inter-individual contexts (conflicting interests, moral attitudes, etc.), inner-individual dilemmas apparently share at least some structural aspects with them: individual behavior can concern more conflicting levels of optimization. For example, starting additional academic projects with potentially positive ‘payoff’ may assume ‘more is more’. However, exogenous effects may arise from optimizing local goals; further contributions may incrementally reduce the quality of other contributions and yield ‘more is less’. In three experiments we explore a one-person investment game about building hotels, reflecting a social dilemma. The payoffs involve different optima for local and global optimization. Results show that people can be influenced by a default-strategy of ‘more is more’, even if it is irrational.


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