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What Happens in the Field Stays in the Field: Exploring Whether Professionals Play Minimax in Laboratory Experiments

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  • Steven D. Levitt
  • John A. List
  • David H. Reiley, Jr.

Abstract

The minimax argument represents game theory in its most elegant form: simple but with stark predictions. Although some of these predictions have been met with reasonable success in the field, experimental data have generally not provided results close to the theoretical predictions. In a striking study, Palacios-Huerta and Volij (2007) present evidence that potentially resolves this puzzle: both amateur and professional soccer players play nearly exact minimax strategies in laboratory experiments. In this paper, we establish important bounds on these results by examining the behavior of four distinct subject pools: college students, bridge professionals, world-class poker players, who have vast experience with high-stakes randomization in card games, and American professional soccer players. In contrast to Palacios-Huerta and Volij’s results, we find little evidence that real-world experience transfers to the lab in these games—indeed, similar to previous experimental results, all four subject pools provide choices that are generally not close to minimax predictions. We use two additional pieces of evidence to explore why professionals do not perform well in the lab: (1) complementary experimental treatments that pit professionals against preprogrammed computers, and (2) post-experiment questionnaires. The most likely explanation is that these professionals are unable to transfer their skills at randomization from the familiar context of the field to the unfamiliar context of the lab.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15609.

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Date of creation: Dec 2009
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Publication status: published as Steven D. Levitt & John A. List & David H. Reiley, 2010. "What Happens in the Field Stays in the Field: Exploring Whether Professionals Play Minimax in Laboratory Experiments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(4), pages 1413-1434, 07.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15609

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  1. Haigh, Michael S. & List, John A., 2002. "Do Professional Traders Exhibit Myopic Loss Aversion? An Experimental Analysis," Working Papers, University of Maryland, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics 28554, University of Maryland, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
  2. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, 2003. "Professionals Play Minimax," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 70(2), pages 395-415, 04.
  3. Glenn Harrison & John List, 2008. "Naturally occurring markets and exogenous laboratory experiments: A case study of the winner's curse," Framed Field Experiments 00266, The Field Experiments Website.
  4. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta & Oscar Volij, . "Experientia Docet: Professionals Play Minimax In Laboratory Experiments," Economic theory and game theory, Oscar Volij 019, Oscar Volij.
  5. John Wooders, 2010. "Does Experience Teach? Professionals and Minimax Play in the Lab," Econometrica, Econometric Society, Econometric Society, vol. 78(3), pages 1143-1154, 05.
  6. O'Neill, Barry, 1991. "Comments on Brown and Rosenthal's Reexamination [Testing the Minimax Hypothesis, A Reexamination of O'Neill's Game Experiment]," Econometrica, Econometric Society, Econometric Society, vol. 59(2), pages 503-07, March.
  7. Jason Shachat & J. Todd Swarthout, 2003. "Do We Detect and Exploit Mixed Strategy Play by Opponents?," Experimental, EconWPA 0310001, EconWPA.
  8. Ernst Fehr & John A. List, 2004. "THE HIDDEN COSTS AND RETURNS OF INCENTIVES — TRUST AND TRUSTWORTHINESS AMONG CEOs," Labor and Demography, EconWPA 0409012, EconWPA.
  9. John List & David Reiley, 2008. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00091, The Field Experiments Website.
  10. Mark Walker & John Wooders, 2001. "Minimax Play at Wimbledon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1521-1538, December.
  11. Robert W. Rosenthal & Jason Shachat & Mark Walker, 2003. "Hide and Seek in Arizona," Experimental, EconWPA 0312001, EconWPA.
  12. Spiliopoulos, Leonidas, 2008. "Do repeated game players detect patterns in opponents? Revisiting the Nyarko & Schotter belief elicitation experiment," MPRA Paper 6666, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  13. P.-A. Chiappori, 2002. "Testing Mixed-Strategy Equilibria When Players Are Heterogeneous: The Case of Penalty Kicks in Soccer," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1138-1151, September.
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