More Fun Than Freud

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Dr. Robert Ravich’s Interpersonal Behavior Game-Test—a diagnostic tool for married couples in which they raced a pair of electric trains against a clock, cooperating or not cooperating at their own risk—was the season’s splashiest innovation in psychology. Already, more than one hundred couples had played out their relationship with the toy trains in Dr. Ravich’s New York office. Each spouse operated a train against a time limit for completing the course. Husband and wife were kept from seeing each other’s engine by a dividing wall, but their trains could collide if they did not accommodate each other at crucial points, granting the doctor insight into how they might cooperate outside his office. Women who started the Game-Test submissively were sometimes daring engineers by the end, sending their trains straight through instead of switching tracks in favor of their husbands. Although Ravich claimed many of the couples learned compromise and teamwork from playing his game, the real purpose was to quickly establish patterns for later discussion. Dr. Ravich’s game was a variation on the bargaining theory of Columbia University’s Dr. Morton Deutsch, who had been inspired while watching two Italian bus drivers engage in a loud test of wills at an intersection.