Mixed Motives and Social Dilemmas Imagine that you have to choose between cooperating with others in your group versus pursuing your own self-interests, which can hurt the others. Examples of these mixed-motive situations are everywhere. An actor in a play may be moti- vated to try to “steal” a scene, a basketball player may be inclined to hog the ball, an executive may want to keep more of the company’s profits, a family member may want to eat all of the leftover birthday cake, and a citizen of the Earth may want to use more than a fair share of finite valuable resources.
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In each case, the individual can gain something by acting selfishly, but if everyone in the group pursues self-interests, all of the group members will ulti- mately be worse off than if they had cooperated with each other. The notion that the pursuit of self-interest can sometimes be self-destructive is the basis for what is called a social dilemma. In a social dilemma, what is good for one is bad for all. If everyone makes the most self-rewarding choice, everyone suffers the greatest loss.