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An agent-based analysis of context-dependent preferences

  • Wendel, Stephen
  • Oppenheimer, Joe
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    In "Skating on Thin Ice", Frohlich and Oppenheimer (2006) describe a phenomenon they observed in public goods experiments that is rarely discussed in the literature: individual contributions to the public good are often inconsistent over time, appearing to fluctuate between two distinct contribution levels. Although they conjecture that individuals have complex context-dependent preferences, they did not develop a full specification of the theory. Using an agent-based simulation model, we explore the likelihood of these psychological conjectures, and thereby provide a possible specification of a theory of complex context-dependent preferences. We consider two main theories: first, that inconsistent contributions arise from a deterministic avoidance of exploitation and second, that inconsistent contributions arise from a probabilistic response to exploitation. We show the former theory clearly fails and the latter theory, under specifiable conditions, does produce the observed pattern of contributions. Two simple alternative theories are also considered, that of a highly-stylized "probabilistic guilt" and of goal-oriented but non-utility maximizing behavior (with stable preferences). Both alternatives, under certain conditions, are also able to generate the observed pattern. We develop an analysis of situations in which the predictions of these theories diverge and suggest that one could discriminate between them in laboratory settings. Finally, we consider a possibly fruitful relationship between simulation and experimentation to consider the implications of one's models and conjectures: this research can be seen as one step in an iterative process of theory development, vetting and testing, generating an empirically grounded theory of individual behavior in VCM games.

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    File URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6V8H-4X4GHNS-1/2/c51cd974fa74641a8c380e37bb1958be
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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Psychology.

    Volume (Year): 31 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 3 (June)
    Pages: 269-284

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:31:y:2010:i:3:p:269-284
    Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/joep

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    1. Duffy, John, 2006. "Agent-Based Models and Human Subject Experiments," Handbook of Computational Economics, in: Leigh Tesfatsion & Kenneth L. Judd (ed.), Handbook of Computational Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 19, pages 949-1011 Elsevier.
    2. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1999. "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Munich Reprints in Economics 20650, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    3. John O. Ledyard, 1994. "Public Goods: A Survey of Experimental Research," Public Economics 9405003, EconWPA, revised 22 May 1994.
    4. Hoffman, Elizabeth & McCabe, Kevin & Smith, Vernon L, 1996. "Social Distance and Other-Regarding Behavior in Dictator Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 653-60, June.
    5. Amos Tversky & Itamar Simonson, 1993. "Context-Dependent Preferences," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 39(10), pages 1179-1189, October.
    6. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
    7. Dibble, Catherine, 2006. "Computational Laboratories for Spatial Agent-Based Models," Handbook of Computational Economics, in: Leigh Tesfatsion & Kenneth L. Judd (ed.), Handbook of Computational Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 31, pages 1511-1548 Elsevier.
    8. Gode, Dhananjay K & Sunder, Shyam, 1993. "Allocative Efficiency of Markets with Zero-Intelligence Traders: Market as a Partial Substitute for Individual Rationality," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(1), pages 119-37, February.
    9. Norman Frohlich & Joe Oppenheimer & Anja Kurki, 2004. "Modeling Other-Regarding Preferences and an Experimental Test," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 119(1_2), pages 91-117, 04.
    10. Vernon L. Smith, 1994. "Economics in the Laboratory," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 113-131, Winter.
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