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Monday, January 01, 2007

Using Game Theory On Your Kids

At bedtime, the Unknown Kids get a story read to them and it seems like they always want different stories - and I'm only going to read one. We've tried a number of methods for choosing which story to read. Invariably, one child ends up happy and the other doesn't.

So this time, I thought I'd try a little game theory (hey, I studied a lot of this stuff in grad school, and since I'm an empiricist, I don't use it often. And I should get some use out of it). So, here's what we did tonight:
  • I explained to the kids that that we'd go three "rounds", and if they couldn't agree on a book, by that time. no one would get a story.
  • First, we flipped a coin to determine who'd go first. Unknown Daughter (age 6) won.
  • For the first round, Unknown Daughter chose a book. Then Unknown Son (age 8) got to either accept the book or reject it. If he rejected it (and he did), he then got to choose one of his own. At this point, Unknown Daughter would get to accept or reject his choice. If she rejected, round one would be over.
  • At this point, the choice went back to Unknown Daughter for round two, and she got to choose. And then Unknown Son, and so on.
  • The key is that if three rounds went by and a book hadn't been agreed upon, no one got a story.
My goal was to see if they'd realize that if they choose a book that the other party had no interest in, they could end screwing themselves and getting NO story.

Here's how it played out: In round one, Unknown Daughter choose an American Girl book that Unknown Son had no interest in. Then, for his turn he choose a Sponge Bob book that she had no interest in (big surprise there, so far).

At this point, she said "that's no fair - all you're going to do is choose Sponge Bob books, and I don't like them." Then I took her aside and told her that she could reject his choice if she didn't want it (that's exactly what she did).

At this point, I explained once again that if they both kept saying no, after three rounds, there would be NO story. So, if they used their turns to only chose stories that THEY wanted and that their sibling didn't, their sibling could easily decide that NO story was just as good as a story that they didn't like, and they could end up with NO story at all.

At this point, Unknown Daughter took Unknown Son out into the hallway, and some frantic whispering ensued. About 20 seconds later, they told me that they'd chosen a Disney Story book.

So this episode could show that there's actual benefit to advanced training in Finance and economics.

Or, it could just illustrate why children of academics turn out so different from their peers.

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