Academic journal article Behavior and Social Issues

Developing an Experimental Analysis of Metacontingencies: Considerations regarding Cooperation in a Four-Person Prisoner's Dilemma Game

Academic journal article Behavior and Social Issues

Developing an Experimental Analysis of Metacontingencies: Considerations regarding Cooperation in a Four-Person Prisoner's Dilemma Game

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Cooperation is an important area of investigation for behavior analysis. The Prisoner's Dilemma game (PDG) provides a useful scenario for studying cooperation in a behavior analytic paradigm. The PDG can be coupled with the concept of the metacontingency to investigate how various contingency arrangements support and promote cooperation in a group. Players in this experiment participated in a PDG and, in some conditions, were given the ability to fine other players but could not talk. The goal of this experiment was to investigate how players' ability to fine one another affected the players' patterns of cooperation, and whether fining itself was affected by the addition of a shared group consequence. The data show that participants cooperated in some conditions, but the fines did not seem to affect players' rates of cooperation.

KEYWORDS: metacontingencies; interlocking contingencies; culture; prisoner's dilemma game

Skinner (1953) identified social behavior as an important area of inquiry for the field of behavior analysis. He suggested the social episode as the analytical unit of social behavior. In a social episode, the behavior of one organism affects the behavior of a second organism. Many different types of interactions can be considered social episodes, such as predator and prey interactions, verbal exchanges between two or more individuals, and leading and following. Skinner (1953) defined leading and following as a social episode in which, "two or more individuals are reinforced by a single external system which requires their combined action" (p. 305). This is generally the interaction type and definition used to study what has also been called cooperation (Azrin & Lindsley, 1956). More recently, Glenn (1988, 1991, 2004) has introduced the term interlocking behavioral contingency (IBC) as a way of describing the contingencies involved in social episodes. In a social episode, one organism's behavior can function as a discriminative stimulus and a reinforcer for another organism's behavior. The term interlocking emphasizes the dependent relation between the behaviors of both organisms. The behavior of each organism is still governed by individual behavioral contingencies; however, the contingencies require the behavior of another organism as antecedent and consequent events.

Glenn (1986) suggested that IBCs are social contingencies that are selected by metacontingencies-contingencies that select IBCs by external consequent events (Glenn, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 2004). Metacontingencies are conceptualized in such a way that they parallel operant contingencies. In a metacontingency the occurrence of an IBC results in occurrence of an aggregate product. The aggregate product is a combination of behavior from multiple individuals in the social episode that operates on the environment in much the same way as does operant behavior. Depending on how the contingencies are arranged, one or more aggregate products may result in the delivery of a particular consequence; these consequences should function to alter the frequency of existing IBCs. This consequence is called a cultural consequence (or the shared consequences discussed in the studies on cooperation; cf., Azrin & Lindsley, 1956). Table 1 depicts a glossary of terms associated with Glenn's (2004) concept of the metacontingency.

Metacontingencies are a step toward understanding cultural phenomena. Glenn (2004) considers cultural practices to be a set of IBCs. Thus, the key to understanding culture is to understand the process through which IBCs are selected. In a discussion on the social environment, Skinner (1953) stated that, "the contingencies to be observed in the social environment easily explain the behavior of the conforming individual. The problem is to explain the contingencies" (p. 416).

The experimental analysis of social episodes is an issue of particular importance to behavior analysts. Humans live in environments in which they frequently have to coordinate their behavior with another person. …

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