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The Speed of Learning in Noisy Games: Partial Reinforcement and the Sustainability of Cooperation

  • Yoella Bereby-Meyer
  • Alvin E. Roth

In an experiment, players? ability to learn to cooperate in the repeated prisoner?s dilemma was substantially diminished when the payoffs were noisy, even though players could monitor one another?s past actions perfectly. In contrast, in one-time play against a succession of opponents, noisy payoffs increased cooperation, by slowing the rate at which cooperation decays. These observations are consistent with the robust observation from the psychology literature that partial reinforcement (adding randomness to the link between an action and its consequences while holding expected payoffs constant) slows learning. This effect is magnified in the repeated game: when others are slow to learn to cooperate, the benefits of cooperation are reduced, which further hampers cooperation. These results show that a small change in the payoff environment, which changes the speed of individual learning, can have a large effect on collective behavior. And they show that there may be interesting comparative dynamics that can be derived from careful attention to the fact that at least some economic behavior is learned from experience. (JEL C71, C72, C73, D83)

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 96 (2006)
Issue (Month): 4 (September)
Pages: 1029-1042

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:96:y:2006:i:4:p:1029-1042
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.96.4.1029
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  21. Esther Hauk & Rosemarie Nagel, 2000. "Choice of partners in multiple two-person prisoner's dilemma games: An experimental study," Economics Working Papers 487, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  22. Sainty, Barbara, 1999. "Achieving greater cooperation in a noisy prisoner's dilemma: an experimental investigation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 421-435, July.
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  24. Erev, Ido & Bereby-Meyer, Yoella & Roth, Alvin E., 1999. "The effect of adding a constant to all payoffs: experimental investigation, and implications for reinforcement learning models," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 111-128, May.
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  26. John Duffy & Nick Feltovich, 1997. "Does Observation of Others Affect Learning in Strategic Environments? An Experimental Study," Levine's Working Paper Archive 592, David K. Levine.
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