Game Theory Secrets for Parents

Read article here

“Game Theory Secrets for Parents” is an essay featured on the Wall Street Journal online, which highlights the application of game theory to the every day lives of parents.

This piece opens with the statement that, while game theory was once exclusively in the domain of established economists and geophysicists, parents can are now benefiting from using such logic. The article claims that game theory, which is “the science of strategic thinking—a way of making the best decision possible based on the way you expect other people to act when players are rational beings”  can be applied to not-so-rational children. By understanding the tenets of game theory, that this kind of thinking “isn’t about what you would do in another person’s shoes, but what they would do in their shoes,” and comparing it to the tenets of good parenting, a reader can see the overlap in spheres.

After briefly explaining the basis of game theory and how it applies to parenting, the article highlights specific situation where game theory can be applied to increase fairness in the every day lives of families. Some of these examples include strategies for getting children to pick up their toys by making children take turns cleaning up single options until the job is done, or getting children to try new bites by presenting many new foods on their plate, and when they refuse the majority of them, the picky eater feels that they have won the negotiation, even though the objective of trying a single new food was accomplished.

The article concludes with an example from another component of game theory – one of reverse auctions and winners curse. When trying to give a babysitting job to one of his three children, who all wanted work, Bob allowed for a bidding war to ensue. The result? Bob’s children viciously bid against each other and Bob received a babysitter for only 90 cents. By understanding how his children would react, Bob used game theory to exploit his position in the scenario (and teach his children about the importance of cooperation).

By linking game theory with parenting, we can see a type of thinking that is stereotyped as technical and complicated to actually be accessible and easy to apply. This is powerful because, by being able to identify situations where game theory exists, we can produce favorable outcomes in our every day lives, not just in economic decisions or political actions. By using game theory in parenting and social interaction, quality of outcomes and favorableness of solutions can be maximized easily and effectively. Therefore, game theory can be seen through this article to be a tool for analyzing and understanding situations that aren’t inherently mathematical.

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