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Games and phone numbers: Do short-term memory bounds affect strategic behavior?

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  • Devetag, Giovanna
  • Warglien, Massimo

Abstract

Research in experimental and behavioral game theory has revealed a substantial and persistent degree of heterogeneity in the strategic behavior of real individuals. While the prevailing theoretical explanations of the observed heterogeneity typically invoke underlying differences in beliefs among the population of players, we argue that a further source of heterogeneity may consist in the individuals' different ability to process information, of which short term memory capacity provides a measurable proxy. Research in cognitive psychology has shown that individuals typically differ in their short term memory capacity; furthermore, short term memory capacity provides a fundamental cognitive bottleneck to our ability to process information efficiently and hence seems correlated with performance in a variety of problem solving and reasoning tasks. In this paper we conduct experiments on a set of well-known games whose solution concepts require the application of some paradigmatic forms of strategic reasoning, such as iterated dominance, reasoning about common knowledge and backward induction. We separately conduct standard short term memory tests on our subjects to detect the presence of a correlation between individuals' behavior in the games - here defined in terms of degrees of conformity to the standard game-theoretic prescriptions - and their short term memory score. Our results show the presence of a significant and positive correlation between subjects' short term memory score and conformity to standard game-theoretic prescriptions in the games, thus confirming our hypothesis. While the robustness of our conjecture awaits to be confirmed by further data gathering in more interactive experimental settings, our preliminary results suggest a promising line of inquiry on the interconnections between information processing capacity and strategic behavior
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  • Devetag, Giovanna & Warglien, Massimo, 2003. "Games and phone numbers: Do short-term memory bounds affect strategic behavior?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 189-202, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:24:y:2003:i:2:p:189-202
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    1. Ohtsubo, Yohsuke & Rapoport, Amnon, 2006. "Depth of reasoning in strategic form games," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 31-47, February.
    2. Giovanna Devetag & Francesca Pancotto & Thomas Brenner, 2011. "The Minority Game Unpacked: Coordination and Competition in a Team-based Experiment," LEM Papers Series 2011/18, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    3. Duffy, Sean & Smith, John, 2011. "Cognitive load in the multi-player prisoner's dilemma game," MPRA Paper 30856, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Sylvain Béal, 2010. "Perceptron versus automaton in the finitely repeated prisoner’s dilemma," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 69(2), pages 183-204, August.
    5. Kovalchik, Stephanie & Camerer, Colin F. & Grether, David M. & Plott, Charles R. & Allman, John M., 2005. "Aging and decision making: a comparison between neurologically healthy elderly and young individuals," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 79-94, September.
    6. Geng, Sen & Peng, Yujia & Shachat, Jason & Zhong, Huizhen, 2015. "Adolescents, cognitive ability, and minimax play," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 128(C), pages 54-58.
    7. Camerer, Colin F. & Ho, Teck-Hua, 2015. "Behavioral Game Theory Experiments and Modeling," Handbook of Game Theory with Economic Applications, Elsevier.
    8. Giovanna Devetag & Sibilla Guida & Luca Polonio, 2016. "An eye-tracking study of feature-based choice in one-shot games," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 19(1), pages 177-201, March.
    9. Duffy, Sean & Naddeo, JJ & Owens, David & Smith, John, 2016. "Cognitive load and mixed strategies: On brains and minimax," MPRA Paper 71878, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Roman M. Sheremeta, 2013. "Overbidding And Heterogeneous Behavior In Contest Experiments," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(3), pages 491-514, July.
    11. Chen, Chia-Ching & Chiu, I-Ming & Smith, John & Yamada, Tetsuji, 2011. "Too smart to be selfish? Measures of intelligence, social preferences, and consistency," MPRA Paper 34438, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. Paolo Crosetto & Marco Mantovani, 2012. "Availability of Information and Representation Effects in the Centipede Game," Jena Economic Research Papers 2012-051, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    13. Duffy, Sean & Smith, John, 2014. "Cognitive load in the multi-player prisoner's dilemma game: Are there brains in games?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 47-56.
    14. Chen, Chia-Ching & Chiu, I-Ming & Smith, John & Yamada, Tetsuji, 2013. "Too smart to be selfish? Measures of cognitive ability, social preferences, and consistency," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 112-122.
    15. Allred, Sarah & Duffy, Sean & Smith, John, 2016. "Cognitive load and strategic sophistication," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 162-178.
    16. Georganas, Sotiris & Healy, Paul J. & Weber, Roberto A., 2015. "On the persistence of strategic sophistication," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 159(PA), pages 369-400.
    17. Devetag, Giovanna & Warglien, Massimo, 2008. "Playing the wrong game: An experimental analysis of relational complexity and strategic misrepresentation," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 364-382, March.
    18. Mazzocco, Ketti & Cherubini, Anna Maria & Cherubini, Paolo, 2013. "On the short horizon of spontaneous iterative reasoning in logical puzzles and games," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 121(1), pages 24-40.
    19. Page, Lionel & Page, Katie, 2010. "Last shall be first: A field study of biases in sequential performance evaluation on the Idol series," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 186-198, February.
    20. Giovanna Devetag & Francesca Pancotto & Thomas Brenner, 2014. "The minority game unpacked:," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 24(4), pages 761-797, September.
    21. Ondrej Rydval, 2011. "The Causal Effect of Cognitive Abilities on Economic Behavior: Evidence from a Forecasting Task with Varying Cognitive Load," Jena Economic Research Papers 2011-064, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
    22. Shu-Heng Chen & Ye-Rong Du & Lee-Xieng Yang, 2014. "Cognitive capacity and cognitive hierarchy: a study based on beauty contest experiments," Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination, Springer;Society for Economic Science with Heterogeneous Interacting Agents, vol. 9(1), pages 69-105, April.
    23. Liu Zhen, 2008. "The Dirty Face Problem with Unawareness," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-20, December.
    24. Colin F. Camerer & Teck-Hua Ho & Juin-Kuan Chong, 2004. "A Cognitive Hierarchy Model of Games," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(3), pages 861-898.
    25. Brañas-Garza, Pablo & Smith, John, 2016. "Cognitive abilities and economic behavior," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 1-4.

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