Tryptophan and Game Theory


l-tryptophan-3d-sticks.pngYou may have heard the fact that turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses in the production of serotonin. You may also have heard that it’s the tryptophan that causes post-Thanksgiving drowsiness.

This direct link is questionable (see, for example, Live Science). However, there’s a new connection afoot: tryptophan has been shown to affect trust and cooperation. And the study measuring that effect used Game Theory!

According to ABC News earlier today, neuroeconomists [did you even know there was such a job title?] used the Prisoner’s Dilemma to measure cooperation. Volunteers who drank a substance reducing their tryptophan levels were significantly less likely to cooperate than those with normal tryptophan levels, and they were also more suspicious of other players. Does this mean that eating turkey will make you more cooperative? Probably not (the levels are likely too low to make any difference), but we’re still happy to have an Actual Math Post related to Thanksgiving Day.

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3 Responses to “Tryptophan and Game Theory”

  1. TwoPi Says:


    I know I could go and look that up, but it’s so much more fun to guess.

    Multiple choice quiz: A neuroeconomist is…

    a) someone who studies the economic behavior of sentient beings
    b) someone who uses their neurons to study the economy
    c) someone who studies the neuroeconomy (that is, intellectual capital)
    d) an economist who needs therapy, or
    e) a purveyor of irrational fears

  2. Carnival of Mathematics #21: Bar-hopping at last « Secret Blogging Seminar Says:

    […] gives a couple of more fun posts for the holiday season: one on the ties between Tryptophan and Game Theory (hint: if you were planning on challenging friends and family to a friendly round of […]

  3. Happy Thanksgiving! « 360 Says:

    […] the temperature continues to rise even after the bird comes out of the oven or thinking about how Game Theory showed that tryptophan affects trust and cooperation, you might also be wondering, “What kind of math did the folk at the first Thanksgiving […]

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