Why Indians behave in the way they do?

Monday, August 31, 2009

There are some questions that have always interesting me. Indians are considered among the most intelligent people in the world but still we continue to be one of the poorer nations. We have had great mathematicians and thinkers like Aryabhata, C V Raman, Srinivasa Ramanujam who have made earth shattering discoveries but we also have piracy related issues and our pharmaceutical company always find different ways to copy and come up with generic variations of the drugs invented in other countries. Why always our urinals stink and our sense public hygiene pathetic. Why as a nation we are individually brilliant but collectively so na├»ve? Can we blame this to the colonial hangover, is it in our genes, is it the climate or it is like this in other countries also. The answer lies in one the most revered behavioral psychology problem called the Prisoner’s dilemma1. Here is the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma (according to Wikipedia) - “Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?” The payoff matrix looks in the following way.

Fig. 1 Payoff matrix in case of classic Prisoner’s dilemma

Three cases are possible –
Case 1 - In the above scenario if both the prisoners cooperate they will reap the benefit of a shorter sentence. This called Reward and is denote this as R. Here R = -2.
Case 2 – If one of the prisoner’s defects and other cooperates then this will result in the prisoner who has defected to go scot-free whereas the other prisoner is jailed for a really long term. The prisoner who defects seemed to have given in to the Temptation and can be denoted as T. Here T = 0. And the other prisoner who cooperated is said to have received Sucker’s payoff denoted as S. Here S = -5.
Case 3 – If both the prisoner’s defect then both would have gone to a medium term jail sentence. This is called as Punishment for mutual defection and is denoted by P. Here P = -4.
Also for the conditions for Prisoner’s dilemma to hold the following two conditions have to be met:-
Condition 1:- T > R > P > S
Condition 2:- 2 R > T + S
Why defection seems like a better option –
Whatever the other prisoner chooses it is always better to defect i.e. to betray as by doing so each player receives higher payoff (in this case lesser sentence). As both the prisoners are rational, they both will betray and both will get relatively lesser sentence when compared to when one stays silent and other betrays. Hence there is a dilemma.
Although it is clear that for a single game it is better to defect but in the iterative form it is not exactly like this. In real life there very few occasions like a single one-time prisoner’s dilemma.
In a onetime game it is clear that is always better to defect as the risk is lower but in an iterative PD the situation is different2. In an iterative prisoner’s dilemma defection is not always the best strategy. As this will result in always lesser points being gathered by the both the players involved in the game over repeated interactions. One needs to have a strategy that will maximize the points earned in the iterative form of the prisoner’s dilemma. The best part is that the strategy that earns the most amounts of points is surprisingly the simple “Tit for Tat” strategy.
In a Tit for Tat strategy, we start with a cooperative move and then do what the other player did the last time. This simple strategy although never wins against a single strategy but will always end up making the maximum amount of points in a tournament where all the strategies compete against each other.
Few things to note about the tit for tat strategy are that it has limited memory (so has no long term grudge), it will never be the first one to defect. But it retaliates when defected against.
An example - Tourism in India
Another example of such a dilemma can be when a tourist comes to India. India by far is the most diverse and culturally diverse country in the world. We have the deserts of Rajasthan and also the snow clad mountains of the Himalayas to the back waters of Kerala. But still we are nowhere near the most preferred destination for many travelers’. This is because when a tourist comes to our country then many think - this is my big pay day, let’s get the maximum out of this guy and we end up cheating. Right from the auto rickshaw drivers to the guides to various hill stations all take their pie. So because of the sucker payoff and unpleasant experience these people will never return to India; even worse they advice their friend to not to come to our country. Hence we end up getting fewer tourists.
Fig. 2 Payoff matrix in case of tourism in India
Similarly PD can be applied to many situations like why Indian manufacturers end up exporting low grade machinery, why we are so corrupt, why we modify our houses but end up decreasing the value of the real estate property.

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma
2 In an iterative PD the best strategy is “Tit for tat”


prabhu said...

The fault lies with the undisciplined politicians who act as the sole role models for the un-educated masses.

If all of them behave with decorum, people will soon learn.

Anonymous said...

Other countries that are very rich now, simply killed and threatened us and took away all the money and research(maths/sci) which was all our hard work.

and those countries(u better know abt which I am talking here) never did any hard work and simply killed us and took everything away.

Now all we do is blame each other and try to find faults in ourselves but the biggest fault is that we don't have that killer attitude , we don't know how to kill people and grab things off and which is what is required now a days.

But all we can do is "talk" and "talk" and find faults in ourselves because we cannot pick up the gun! and if we don't we will keep talking and believe me there is nothing you can find/resolve in this way.

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