Game theory study uncovers secret to taming bullies and extortionists

Originally published at: Game theory study uncovers secret to taming bullies and extortionists | Boing Boing


I’m not sure how this applies to real world bullies. “Give me your lunch money or I’ll pound you” is an age old form of extortion that doesn’t ever seem to go away.

It also seems to require logic or rational thought to be applied by the bully. “If I don’t beat this kid up, I get in less trouble” requires a surprisingly large amount of forward thinking that I’ve never seen from a bully.

Now, how can we can get bullies to understand the prisoners dilemma? Perhaps if we sent them to see experts who would teach them things, maybe in a communal setting…


The biggest problem with using game theory is how it often assumes that all players are rational

It does have it’s uses (I have been reading a bit about auction theory recently)


From the quoted article:

fairness and cooperation can be cultivated and enforced by unbending players

If I read that correctly, this more-or-less matches the old advice of “Punch them in the nose. Even if they’re bigger than you and win the fight, you’re worth leaving alone next time.”

It’s a single data point, but it matches my experience with bullies exactly. I hit back, I got the tar knocked out of me, and they left me alone after that. It’s partly why I’m sending my autistic son to boxing lessons (the main reason is so he’ll walk like a guy who knows he has options if a fight breaks out, thereby avoiding a fight in the first place).

I know that bullying in schools often has deep roots, and is a sign the bullying kid has problems that aren’t being met. But that’s not my boy’s problem to fix; that’s the parents, school, social worker, and wider community’s problem to address.

I’m not at all convinced that it’s the best approach, and if anyone has helpful experience, I’m very keen to hear it.


I think in that case, the unbending player might say, “Go for it, beat me up and rob me, I will report you to the authorities, and you, my bully, will be expelled. I’ll never have to deal with you again.” Both parties lose if the bully/extortionist follows through, but the extortionist loses much more.


Nice game theory you got there. You wouldn’t want something to happen to it.


My own experience with bullies is that standing up to them causes them to escalate.


Mine was standing firm when he made the tactical mistake of taking me on in an environment I understood better than him. He was surprised by my response and he suddenly realized that he was in as much danger as me. Or rather, didn’t understand the danger. So maybe there is something to this game theory theory game.


I’m sorry to hear.


It’s interesting how, despite being a flavor of self-sacrificing fairness enforcement, spite tends to get a bad rap.


Aïkido can give you the confidence to maintain your own space, knowing that you can dissipate the energy brought on by an attacker safely.


Except the authorities won’t expel the kid, they will put him on some long probation system where he’ll cause trouble to everyone else until all his N chances are used up. And if his parents are rich, he’ll have N+100 chances.

Better to punch them in the nose, so they go pick on someone else.


I love aikido, but there’s a lack of instructors around here.

ETA: On the plus side, he’s learned a lot from boxing about things that aren’t exclusively boxing skills: perseverance, focus, taking instructions, balance.


Yeah, I work near the national boxing stadium here and I see teams of amateur boxers from around the world. Polite, well mannered, disciplined, made of nails and leather.


If Game Theory has told me anything it’s that you need a credible nuclear deterrent to make it work.


My take was that the unbending good guy/victim has to be a little shady too, and extort the extorter. In the name of fairness, allegedly, but if we’re talking money or resources, it’s not exactly a win-win, especially with multiple victims.


OhHai’s strategy is optimal, but is weak in terms of time duration. A less effective, but still effective, strategy is to pound the bully. Yes, you will get beaten up, but you make it less worth their while. Most bullies don’t expect resistance, and fierce resistance can win. It also needs to be immediate. Delay is fatal. Sometimes you don’t get beaten up. It has worked for me.


Seems like this is an excellent strategy for bullies. Been working great for the GOP for 30+ years.

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Kung Fu lessons. The only way to stop a bully is to convince them they will get their ass handed to them if they mess with you. You can try to reason, but if violence is all they respond to it’s better to have the skills to kick the living shit of them, even if you’re a pacifist.


With bullying thugs, it has to be more than a counter-threat. One has to be prepared to fight back after denying their claims of power. As others have noted, bullies are arrogant and thus often surprised when a supposedly weak mark matches them with equal, if not necessarily identical, force.

In my own experience in elementary school, a bully pushed my quiet and peaceful self too far, I lost my temper, and suddenly found myself pinning him with my fist poised to cave in his nose. He and his toadies never went after me again.

Of course, the current blind practise of “zero tolerance for violence” wasn’t in effect in schools in those days, so once the teacher (who knew all the parties involved) pulled me off I didn’t get re-victimised by the school. It was the sobbing bully who got the lecture.

I’ve since refined my anti-bully strategies, but the starting point is always acknowledging to myself that I don’t have to accept their claim of superior power because “that’s the way it is”.

As an adult, when physical violence is less of a factor, that becomes the case. It’s also sometimes useful to play the victim for them for a little bit while you lead them down the garden path to a point where you can surprise them with the fact that they’re now in equal or greater trouble than whatever they were threatening you with.

In those cases it always helps to have allies who can tell the bullies from their victims.