How to play chicken

We’ve often referred to the standoff between Minnesota — and now, national — politicians as “a game of chicken,” but what’s the psychology behind playing this game?

The Associated Press has gone to the scientists to figure it out. The most interesting observation in the article — which you can find here — is it helps if one size is crazy. I’ll leave it to you determine if we should check that off of our list of requirements met.


Another way to win: throw the steering wheel out the window and make sure the other side knows it and will be forced to flinch. Shapiro thinks that’s happened in Washington, but American University international studies professor Joshua Goldstein disagrees.

Goldstein, who has written a book chapter about the chicken game in diplomacy, said the side that has the least to lose is more believable when it threatens to ditch the steering wheel and go for broke: “It gives the weaker party more negotiating power.”

In this situation, tea party followers have more credibility in their throw-the-wheel-out threats and President Barack Obama, who wants to be re-elected, can’t play consequences-be-damned, he said.

The game of chicken “has to be dangerous in order to give people the incentive to cooperate. It helps if you are crazy or if you pretend to be crazy,” Goldstein said.

Now, if anyone knows of an expert in the science of “kick the can,” let me know.

  • kennedy

    In other words, to “win” at chicken you have to make the other side believe you are more willing to crash than they are.

    In the case of Washington DC, is it a good thing for people to believe you are willing to “crash” the government for the sake of your ideals? Seems like a tricky tight rope to walk. In essence, “I so believe in my ideals that I am willing to crash the government.”

  • Jim Shapiro

    “It helps if you’re crazy or pretend to be crazy.”

    Congresswoman Bachmann is the overwhelming favorite in this competition.