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

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

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 ( 2008) presented 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: (i) complementary experimental treatments that pit professionals against preprogrammed computers and (ii) 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. Copyright 2010 The Econometric Society.

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Article provided by Econometric Society in its journal Econometrica.

Volume (Year): 78 (2010)
Issue (Month): 4 (07)
Pages: 1413-1434

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Handle: RePEc:ecm:emetrp:v:78:y:2010:i:4:p:1413-1434
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  1. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, 2001. "Professionals Play Minimax," Working Papers 2001-17, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  2. repec:spr:compst:v:59:y:2004:i:3:p:359-373 is not listed on IDEAS
  3. 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, vol. 92(4), pages 1138-1151, September.
  4. Ernst Fehr & John A. List, 2004. "THE HIDDEN COSTS AND RETURNS OF INCENTIVES — TRUST AND TRUSTWORTHINESS AMONG CEOs," Labor and Demography 0409012, EconWPA.
  5. Robert W. Rosenthal & Jason Shachat & Mark Walker, 2003. "Hide and seek in Arizona," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer, vol. 32(2), pages 273-293, December.
  6. John List & Michael Haigh, 2005. "Do professional traders exhibit myopic loss aversion? An experimental analysis," Artefactual Field Experiments 00052, The Field Experiments Website.
  7. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta & Oscar Volij, . "Experientia Docet: Professionals Play Minimax In Laboratory Experiments," Economic theory and game theory 019, Oscar Volij.
  8. 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.
  9. 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, vol. 59(2), pages 503-07, March.
  10. John Wooders, 2010. "Does Experience Teach? Professionals and Minimax Play in the Lab," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(3), pages 1143-1154, 05.
  11. 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.
  12. Mark Walker & John Wooders, 2001. "Minimax Play at Wimbledon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1521-1538, December.
  13. Jason Shachat & J. Todd Swarthout, 2004. "Do we detect and exploit mixed strategy play by opponents?," Mathematical Methods of Operations Research, Springer, vol. 59(3), pages 359-373, 07.
  14. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
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