The implications of critical reading

The article “Competition and Cooperation: the wisdom to know when” written by Roberta Wiig Berg might seem very persuasive and logical, but after a critical reading some flaws in the conclusion provided become eminent. The game does not provide the participants with the same environment as real life so the author’s conclusion that people will always demonstrate a tendency towards competition rather than cooperation cannot be validated.

The Red-Blue Exercise (RBE) is a test that promotes reflection on decision-making methods used by Roberta Wiig Berg to highlight the reasons for people to choose competition or cooperation in specifics situations. This exercise is a variation of the prisoner’s dilemma, a mathematic theory created by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher that shows how it is possible for two individuals to don’t cooperate even when it seems to be the best option for both. Preparations for the Red-Blue Exercise is neither required nor desired. The RBE consists of two teams(A and B) being separated into different rooms with no communication between them, and the objective is to end up with the highest positive score. The chart above shows the possible outcomes of each turn.




Every turn each group must decide what colour they will choose, but the key point here is that they do not know which colour the other group will pick. After both teams have decided the colours, a mediator tells the current score and the other group’s decision. Another crucial part of the exercise is the conference. If teams A and B agree to hold a meeting, the mediator will provide a third location for it to happen after the fourth and eighth rounds. Here each team is responsible for sending one representative to talk to the other team and discuss future choices.

Although this game is a good dynamic to reflect on decision-making methods and ethics, I do not believe that the conclusions drawn from the activity can represent real-life situations because the game does not provide the same environment as real life. Firstly, as R. W. Berg says, people can’t know about the game to play it, and also preparation and introduction are not encouraged. At first, this might seem unimportant since it is just a slight detail, but the consequences of that are meaningful to the proximity to reality. Imagining an episode in our life where people have completely no idea of what to expect, and at the same time research is not allowed is not that easy. In a business negotiation, for example, people might not know what the other side wants/proposes, but to prevent an embarrassing situation they will try to be informed about who are they dealing with, the other side’s needs/demands and the price of the commodity that you are negotiating in the market. After collecting all this data, at least they will have a better idea if it is more favourable to cooperate or compete, a different setting compared to the RBE, where participants are taking a blind shot.

Secondly, as Jc Saenz says the arrangement of incentive structures in the Red-Blue Exercise is not the same as in real life. As Garcia et al explain in the 2013 article, incentive structures are one of the most important parts of situational factors of competitiveness. For example, the price’s value can define how serious people will take the exercise. This means that in a setting where the expected value is low, the participants might not care if they lose or win, and they might not even make rational decisions. On the other hand, if the expected value is high, people will do their best to achieve the best possible result, and it is more likely that they will think carefully through each decision. Since the RBE is presented as just a simple exercise with no material rewards, it can be considered that it lacks a strong incentive structure. In this case, people’s attitudes might have been irrational or inconsequential, not fully representing real-life examples, where the expected value is usually high.

While reading “Competition and cooperation: The wisdom to know when” or other similar articles that drawn conclusion from an experiment, it is common for people to feel comfortable just accepting what the author proposes. This might not be always the best idea because it ignores an important part of the reader’s role, critical thinking. My objective here is not to detract Berg’s work but to explain why the conclusions stated by her are not valid and highlight the importance of critical reading.


Image source

Appendix A from Competition And Cooperation: The Wisdom To Know When, by Roberta Wiig Berg

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