Thursday, December 07, 2006

On Assumptions

by Unknown

Scylla, When She Thought We Weren't Looking
Via Crooked Timber, here's a working paper that outlines a game-theoretic approach to the social norm of putting the toilet seat down. The author concludes that putting the seat down is irrational.

In the photo on the right, Scylla demonstrates how game-theoretic models built on incomplete assumptions (in this case, of household composition) can result in misleading conclusions about rationally optimal behavior.

Tom adds: Any game theoretic analysis concluding that putting the toilet seat down is irrational contributes an observation towards the Daniel Davies-Folk Theorem, a.k.a., the November 2006 Quote of the Month:
[I]f we take strategic considerations into account, there is a game-theoretic rationale for practically fucking anything.
Kim's point regarding household composition is well-taken. I'd consider the payoff structure leading to the headline result to be Highly Suspect unless the household is composed like that of Mrs. McCave (who, as you may recall, had 23 sons and named them all Dave). I'd also add that if you've been trained to expect that the seat will be down and are surprised in the middle of the night, the disutility of getting an unexpected dip in the toilet bowl would offset the utility cost of many, many raisings and lowerings of the seat.

It might be asked whether there are other strategic benefits of irritating the female members of one's family. On that front, Davies (op. cit.) provided the other Quote of the Month candidate for your consideration:
It is certainly true that one of the benefits of doing something stupid is that it saves you from having to spend money on maintaining your reputation as an idiot. However, is the reputation of an idiot really worth having?
Uh, you need also to consider the part of the abstract Mark Thoma (from whom Henry at CT found it) adds:

However, to the dismay of “mankind”, we also find that the social norm of leaving the seat down after use is a trembling-hand perfect equilibrium. Hence, sadly, this norm is not likely to go away.

In fact, as I noted in comments at Mark's place, DOWN is the only scenario that does not present a clear advantage to one or the other genders (women and men either suffer equally or men suffer marginally more but know women do as well).

(And, yes, I am irritated that blogger removed the blockquote option from comments.)
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