Dylan Selterman, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland, has been assigning the same extra credit problem on his final exam since 2008 — only one class has ever answered correctly.
The prompt reads:
“Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added onto your final paper grade.
“If more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points. Your responses will be anonymous to the rest of the class, only I will see the responses.”
Selterman explained to BuzzFeed that the question is designed to reinforce social psychology concepts like “tragedy of the commons” and “the prisoner’s dilemma.”
The extra credit problem serves to show how individuals acting independently in their own best interest can harm the group’s best interest.
“Some students lament the degree of selfishness amongst their peers, while other students (bravely, in my opinion) openly admit to selecting six points.”
In seven years of presenting the dilemma, only one class has ever managed land extra credit points. Selterman claimed that the result was an outlier, however, telling i100:
“In reality, if too many people overuse a common resource then everyone in the group suffers, not just the selfish ones… This is what I want students to learn from the exercise. Their actions affect others, and vice versa.”