A professor at the University of Maryland pitted his students against each other by having them choose between more or fewer extra credit points. Though the choice seemed obvious, there was one small catch — if more than 10 percent of students chose more points, nobody would receive any.
Psychology lecturer Dr. Dylan Selterman sent the tricky question to his students, which included the high-stakes stipulation.
“Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added to your final grade,” the question read. “But there's a small catch: If more than 10 percent of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points."
In the end, according to Selterman, more than 10 percent of students chose 6 extra points — causing the entire class to miss out on extra credit.
“I've been doing this exercise every semester since the first time I taught at the college level in 2008,” Selterman said. “Only one time did students stay under the threshold for the selfish option (I think that was a random fluke)."
Selterman’s question went viral after a student posted a screenshot to Twitter. Selterman said he got the idea to pose the question to his class after being presented with the same challenge as a student in Steve Drigotas’ class at Johns Hopkins.
“When I was an undergrad in his class, I chose the lower point option and was very upset with my peers for choosing the higher point option!” he said. Though it’s an amusing question to pose to eager students, Selterman said there was a lesson behind it all along.
“In reality, if too many people overuse a common resource then everyone in the group suffers, not just the selfish ones,” he said. “This is what I want students to learn from the exercise. Their actions affect others, and vice versa."