According to Kevin Zollman of Carnegie Mellon and Paul Raeburn, game theory isn’t just for diplomats–although it has been applied to solving the conflict in Syria or smart decision-making. It can help parents overcome the cleverness of their own little evil genius negotiating opponents.
Here’s where a little knowledge of human behavior and game theory comes in handy. Psychologists have found that how children approach negotiations—and whether they share or turn spiteful—depends in large part on notions of fair play. And game theorists have devised various ways to approach any negotiation—some of which are more likely to result in fair outcomes than others. Some schemes require an authority figure—like a parent—to enforce them, but others are designed to structure the bargaining so that no enforcer is needed. What that means is, with the right incentives, kids can be taught to reach fair agreements all on their own.
In The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, they recommend the following:
- Force Cooperation
- Make them Bid on Chores
- Carry out your threats
- Change incentives: Reward Honesty or Make them Lie
- Create Envy-free Situation
Putting game theory to work in the minivan is another way of saying that Nobel-winning ideas are upping your game:
Screaming “Don’t make me turn this car around!” never works. That’s what Zollman calls a noncredible threat—kids see through it, because they know it means you’ll suffer too. So pick punishments that benefit you. Like: “Stop punching your sister or we’re going to Grandma’s instead of the movies.”