Smith Institute .
Chapman University .
Orange, CA 92866 .

Research

 

Here is my Google Scholar profile. For abstracts, see below.

 

 

 

A Notion of Prominence for Games with Natural-Language Labels  (with S. Bhatia; Quantitative Economics, 2021). We study games with natural-language labels (i.e., strategic problems where options are denoted by words), for which we propose and test a measurable characterization of prominence. We assume that – ceteris paribus – players find particularly prominent those strategies that are denoted by words more frequently used in their everyday language. To operationalize this assumption, we suggest that the prominence of a strategy-label is correlated with its frequency of occurrence in large text corpora, such as the Google Books corpus (“n-gram” frequency). In testing for the strategic use of word frequency, we consider experimental games with different incentive structures (such as incentives to and not to coordinate), as well as subjects from different cultural/linguistic backgrounds. Our data show that frequently-mentioned labels are more (less) likely to be selected when there are incentives to match (mismatch) others. Furthermore, varying one’s knowledge of the others’ country of residence significantly affects one’s reliance on word frequency. Overall, the data show that individuals play strategies that fulfill our characterization of prominence in a (boundedly) rational manner.

 

 

 

Game-Theoretic Accounts of Social Norms  (with C. Bicchieri) in The Handbook of Experimental Game Theory, ed. C. Monica Capra, Rachel Croson, Mary Rigdon and Tanya Rosenblat. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020.

 

Social norms and social preferences have become an integral part of the economics discourse. After disentangling the two notions here we focus on social norms, which we stipulate as (group-specific) context-dependent solutions to strategic problems. More precisely, we define social norms as behavioral regularities emerging in mixed-motive games, as a result of preferences for conformity conditional on an endogenous set of beliefs and expectations. In the following, we review a few models that explicitly feature normative expectations, as well as models that define norms on the basis of “social categories”. We finally survey some relevant experimental evidence.

 

 

 

Opportunistic Conformism  (with G. Charness and M. Naef; Journal of Economic Theory, 2019). We examine a novel class of conformist preferences that is within the realm of psychological game theory. We propose that beliefs about the behavior of individuals in the same role (i.e., beliefs about “peer behavior”) directly affect a player’s utility. In examining conformism we propose an experimental design that verifies the presence of the relevant causality direction. Our data reveal “opportunistically conformist” behavior, as subjects are more likely to follow the purported majority if doing so implies an increase in expected material payoff. We provide a theoretical model that accounts for such a pattern.

 

 

 

I Cannot Cheat on You After We Talk  (with C. Bicchieri) in The Prisoner’s Dilemma, ed. M. Peterson. Cambridge University Press, 2015. [This is part of a collection of research papers at the intersection of game theory and philosophy. Contributors to this volume include K. Binmore, G. Bonanno, C. Holt, etc.]

 

Experimental evidence on pre-play communication supports a “focusing function of communication” hypothesis. Relevant communication facilitates cooperative, pro-social behavior because it causes a shift in individuals’ focus towards strategies dictated by some salient social norm. After reviewing the formal foundations for a general theory of conformity to social norms, we provide an original application illustrating how a framework that allows for different conjectures about norms is able to capture the focusing function of communication and to explain experimental results.

 

 

 

The Doors of Perception  (with G. Charness). We investigate how strategic behavior is affected by the set of notions (“the frame”) players take into account in thinking about the game. To do so, we consider games where the action set consists of visual objects: each player must privately choose one, with the goal of matching the counterpart’s choice. We propose a model where different player types are aware of different attributes of the action set (hence, different frames); one of the novelties is an epistemic structure that allows players to think about new frames, after initial unawareness of some attributes. To test the model, our experimental design brings about multiple frames by manipulating subjects’ awareness of various attributes. We contrast our model’s predictions against a set of null hypotheses based on the standard Bayesian paradigm (i.e., the case of incomplete information). The data indicate that frame awareness significantly affects behavior, and such an impact cannot be plausibly captured by standard Bayesian models.

 

 

 

Strategic Problems with Risky Prospects: Feedback with Low Informational Content Affects Collective Risk-Taking Behavior  (with C. Bicchieri, A. Funcke, and E. Hart). We study hypothetical reasoning in games where the impact of “risky prospects” (chance moves with commonly-known conditional probabilities) is compounded by the presence of strategic uncertainty. We embed these games in an environment that allows us to verify whether risk-taking behavior is affected by information that slightly reduces the extent of strategic uncertainty. In doing so, we test some aggregate-level implications of expected utility theory. Our results indicate an effect of the information on behavior: this effect is triggered in some cases by a belief revision (about others’ actions), and in other cases by a reversal in risk preferences.

 

 

 

A Dynamic Model of Belief-Dependent Conformity to Social Norms.  Human conduct is often guided by “conformist preferences”, which thrive on behavioral expectations within a society, with conformity being the act of changing one’s behavior to match the purported beliefs of others. Despite a growing research line considering preferences for a fair outcome allocation, economic theories do not explain the fundamental conditions for some social norm – whether of fairness or not – to be followed. Inspired by Bicchieri’s account of norms (C.Bicchieri, The Grammar of Society. CambridgeUP [2006]),  I develop a behavioral theory of norm conformity building on the Battigalli-Dufwenberg “psychological” framework (P.Battigalli and M.Dufwenberg, Dynamic Psychological Games, J.Econ.Theory, 144:1-35 [2009]).

 

 

 

Escher - Belvedere

M. C. Escher: Belvedere