Predictably irrational traffic

There have been several experiments where they test the behaviour of people with respect to fairness. A popular test is that person A is given 100 rupees to divide among himself and person B. Now, B can either accept this division, in which case both get the amounts that A proposed, or he can reject it, in which case both get nothing.

Logically, even if B is paid 1 rupee, he should accept it since he’s better off with the rupee rather than without. However, numerous studies have shown that B rejects the division when he thinks it is “unfair”.

Saw a version of this yesterday. Typically at busy intersections, you would do well to follow the rules and wait for the green light. The cost of the wait is typically less than the cost of a potential jam (there’s a limiting case wrt traffic, of course; hence you see that there are more signal jumps when traffic is thin). However, it seems like fairness is important.

It was fantastic to watch, and even participate in it though I knew what I was doing was wrong. West had waited for five minutes at the intersection (a long time by that intersection standards) and when the policeman decided to ignore them to give Green for a second consecutive time to south, the barrier breached. As if acting on a cue, everyone on the west side breached the signal and caused a traffic jam.

It was fantastic. People were really patient for the first few minutes of the signal. No one even attempted to jump it. The policeman, they thought, was doing his job and they did theirs. After the jam been caused, once again, people were remarkably behaved and listened to the policeman as he helped clear the jam. It was only when the policeman acted “unfairly” that they didn’t behave. It was as if at that moment the crowd had lost trust in the signal system and decided to breach.

I ultimately ended up spending some 20 minutes at the intersection (i was part of the side that was “unfairly treated”).

Let me know if you have observed anything else that is similar.

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