Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 00:04 | SYDNEY
Friday 15 Oct 2021 | 00:04 | SYDNEY

The Brady Bunch on crisis management


Sam Roggeveen


14 June 2011 13:24

While channel flicking on the weekend, I caught an episode of the Brady Bunch that seemed to offer a model lesson in game theory


Peter breaks a vase and conspires with his siblings to cover up the misdeed. But the Brady parents discover the broken vase anyway, and all the children except Peter confess to something they did not do. They are punished, which leaves Peter feeling guilty.

There are no original ideas on the internet, and this blogger got in way ahead of me in identifying the game theory aspects of the episode, and in devising an optimal strategy for Peter: is in Peter’s best interest to avoid confessing. The siblings are punished in either case because they have already made their choice of confessing. Therefore, Peter should avoid confessing. He is in the situation that every prisoner in the Prisoner’s Dilemma would like to be in – to know what his or her partner’s choices is and make a move accordingly.

In the best American family-oriented sitcom tradition, Peter does no such thing. Afflicted with guilt, he confesses at the end of the episode, which illustrates the limits of rationality as a basis for understanding human motivation and makes me relieved that America's Cold War grand strategists had the Bradys to counter-balance their diet of Kenneth Waltz and Albert Wohlstetter.