Thursday, 16 October 2008

Suffer, Punish or Walk Away

This is a picture of me being punished on the climb up Howard's Lick from the State Park. My form is still rather interesting what with the not quite un-janky leg and all.

A while ago I heard a story about this experiment. The purpose was to try and quantify the validity of, basically, sadism, masochism and neutrality. I forget the exact details, but you started off in a situation with another person. This person was neither your stated partner nor opponent, just a neutral person with whom you were in this situation.

As the experiment went along, people made decisions. The decisions were to work with the other person or to grub off the other person. The corresponding follow on decisions for the other person were to carry the other, stop working, or punish the other.

I forget exactly how the scores worked, but carrying the other person had a cost, getting punished had a cost and neutrality had a small cost. Engendering cooperation had a benefit, but you could only solicit it by your actions. You couldn't lobby or make dope deals or anything, you could only carry, punish, work with or not work with your counterpart. Your total score was a combination of many iterations of the game, played with many many different people.

At the end of it all, people who worked with other people most often had the most success. The way to engender cooperation was neutrality - working with them when they worked, abandoning work when they did. Punishers were less successful and the beasts of burden were the least successful. If your counterpart worked and you chose to work, that was likely to self perpetuate. People who carried others never got their counterpart to work and people who punished slacker counterparts sometimes got them to work but often did not.

This has to be totally applicable to cycling. Imagine a break of two. The two man break where both people work has a likelihood of succeeding. The two man break where one guy does all the work is likely to result in the non-worker attacking the worker when the worker is past the point of usefulness. The worker will then get caught and dropped while the slacker has a chance to stay away. A two man break where one stops working and the other attacks in response to that will either see the would be slacker realize that he'd better work, or the worker's (punisher's) attack plays itself out in either a win or a catch by the group. Most likely a catch. A break where one stops working and the other immediately stops working is likely to get caught so quickly that neither protagonist bears a very high cost for the attack, and both go back to the pack and live to fight another day.

Sometimes you hear random crap on NPR and it turns out to be really useful.


crispy said...

I've just started following your blog, and every post has left me wanting more: I like your style and your content. Keep it up!

jim e said...


David Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks, guys.