Turkey Engenders Trust
> 11/21/2007 10:25:38 AM

Imagine you sit at the Thanksgiving dinner table, and your aunt has just asked you to pass the turkey. Your eyes move to the tempting chocolate cake in front of her. You have two options, cooperate and hope that after you pass the turkey your aunt will return the favor by passing the cake, or defect and keep the turkey for yourself. Your mind descends into suspicion: "What if I pass the turkey and she betrays me?"Ě You have fallen into the prisoner's dilemma, a classic game used in game theory experiments.

While many articles this week warn readers about the dangers of feastingódigestive problems, heart-attack, and even gallbladder painóresearcher at Oxford present the case that scarfing down turkey can be a good thing. Dr. Robert Rogers suspected that tryptophan, an essential amino acid that produces serotonin and is found in high levels in turkey, could affect human decision-making. He divided participants into two groups, one that drank a liquid that depleted their levels of tryptophan and one that drank a neutral liquid. When put into the prisoner's dilemma, the group with more tryptophan was much more willing to cooperate. Those with depleted levels were more distrustful, leading to defections and worse results for everyone involved.

Big family meals need not be feared. Communal dinners have held countless human communities together. They allow families and friends to bond, and this Oxford study shows that turkey can facilitate that bonding process. Thanksgiving, celebrated to remember the cooperation between Native Americans and Pilgrims, still serves a purpose. While there may be family squabbles tomorrow, tryptophan should help create a cooperative spirit. So pass the turkey to your aunt and try to get along.

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