Why Should I Be Nice, ... But Not Too Nice?

Richard Stanley

The following 38 minute video is from a lecture by Stanford University's Professor Sapolsky on the basics of Game Theory, starting with Tit-for-Tat reciprocal behaviors and optimizing variations. He discusses pitfalls in such behavioral strategies and how humans and other organisms counter.

At just before 24 minutes is discussed a somewhat inverted reciprocal strategy, based on the advantages of being perceived as being 'crazy'. Here, with the difference between 'perception' and otherwise real 'cheating' so to speak. Mentioned here is the famous Daniel Ellsberg and his Pentagon Papers affair regarding his Vietnam War disclosure. Ellsberg was a Game Theorist for the Pentagon, where he had earlier come up with a Game Theory paper titled "The Optimal Benefits of Perceived Madness".

Sapolsky's discussion gets to the heart of old sayings like "nice guys finish last", or in getting dumped by a girl -- because you're "too nice". The latter seems paradoxical when so many females consciously say that they want their guy to be nice, to themselves and others. But, as the Game Theory results show, being too nice means that you're highly prone to being taken advantage of, e.g. the 'soft' boss', the 'soft' employee', the 'soft' mate', etc.. And research has shown that we are neurologically hard-wired to make numerous subconscious decisions based upon perceptions, such as a man being "too nice".
Last edited: