Smith Institute .
Chapman University .
Orange, CA 92866 .



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




The Doors of Perception: Theory and Evidence of Frame-Dependent Rationalizability (with G. Charness; revise&resubmit American Economic Journal: Micro). We investigate how strategic behavior is affected by the set of notions (frames) used when thinking about the game. In our games, the action set consists of visual objects: each player must privately choose one, trying to match 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 varying subjects’ awareness of several attributes. We contrast our model’s predictions against a set of null hypotheses based on the standard Bayesian paradigm (i.e., incomplete-information games with no unawareness). Our results indicate that unawareness does affect behavior, and such an impact cannot be plausibly captured by standard Bayesian models.




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. M. Capra, Rachel T.A. Croson, Mary L. Rigdon and Tanya S. Rosenblat. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020.


Social norms and social preferences have become an integral part of the economics discourse. Here we show that models of social preferences limit themselves to capturing stable dispositions toward an exogenously-defined principle of conduct (e.g., I am kind to another person, if that person is kind to me, according to the modeler’s definition of kindness). By contrast, social norms are better understood as group-specific solutions to strategic problems: more precisely, we define social norms as regularities resulting from conformist preferences, that are conditional on “empirical beliefs” and on endogenous “normative expectations” (i.e., second-order beliefs that a certain behavior ought to be followed). Building on Bicchieri’s earlier research, we argue that accounting for endogenous behavioral rules is key to the understanding of norms. [Relatedly, the Social Norms article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives an all-around account of past and current research on norms, with a focus on the philosophical literature.]




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. Martin Peterson. Cambridge University Press, 2015. [This is part of a collection of research papers at the interface of game theory & philosophy. Among the contributors to this volume are K. Binmore, D. Gauthier, D. M. Hausman, 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.




Strategic Problems with Risky Prospects: The Impact of Feedback in Complex Interactions  (with C. Bicchieri, A. Funcke, and E. Hart). We study interactions where the presence of multiple unknowns makes for complex hypothetical reasoning. We propose a “threshold game” featuring some of the elements that characterize a vaccination decision, in that strategic uncertainty is compounded by the presence of “risky prospects” (i.e., chance moves with commonly-known conditional probabilities). We embed our game in a Bayesian framework and design an experimental environment to test the effect of feedback about some others’ behavior. In doing so, we analyze the relationship between (updated) beliefs and best-responses, and verify some aggregate-level implications of expected utility theory. Our results indicate a beneficial effect of the feedback: in addition to inducing a belief revision, feedback causes a decrease in expected utility maximization failures. Even when the feedback has low informational content (i.e., one learns little from it), feedback improves decision-making as it induces people to think more about the problem at hand.




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. Cambridge UP [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