Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 482–488 | Cite as

Self-control by pigeons in the prisoner's dilemma

  • Forest Baker
  • Howard RachlinEmail author
Brief Reports


Pigeons played a repeated prisoner's dilemma game against a computer that reflected their choices: If a pigeon cooperated on trial n, the computer cooperated on trial n + 1; if the pigeon defected on trial n, the computer defected on trial n + 1. Cooperation thus maximized reinforcement in the long term, but defection was worth more on the current trial. Under these circumstances, pigeons normally defect. However, when a signal correlated with the pigeon's previous choice immediately followed each current trial choice, some pigeons learned to cooperate. Furthermore, cooperation was higher when trials were close together in time than when they were separated by long intertrial intervals.


Reinforcement Rate Large Reward Reward Magnitude Front Panel Small Reward 
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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyState University of New YorkStony Brook

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