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Preference Evolution, Two-Speed Dynamics, and Rapid Social Change


  • William H. Sandholm

    (University of Wisconsin, Madison)


We present a dynamic analysis of the evolution of preferences in a strategic environment. In our model, each player's behavior depends upon both the game's payoffs and his idiosyncratic biases, but only the game's payoffs determine his evolutionary success. Dynamics run at two speeds at once: while natural selection slowly reshapes the distribution of preferences, players quickly learn to behave as their preferences dictate. We establish the existence and uniqueness of the paired trajectories of society's preferences and aggregate behavior. While aggregate behavior adjusts smoothly in equilibration games, in coordination games aggregate behavior can jump discretely in an instant of evolutionary time. (Copyright: Elsevier)

Suggested Citation

  • William H. Sandholm, 2001. "Preference Evolution, Two-Speed Dynamics, and Rapid Social Change," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 4(3), pages 637-679, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:red:issued:v:4:y:2001:i:3:p:637-679
    DOI: 10.1006/redy.2001.0128

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ely, Jeffrey C. & Yilankaya, Okan, 2001. "Nash Equilibrium and the Evolution of Preferences," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 255-272, April.
    2. Robson, Arthur J., 1996. "The Evolution of Attitudes to Risk: Lottery Tickets and Relative Wealth," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 14(2), pages 190-207, June.
    3. Huck, Steffen & Oechssler, Jorg, 1999. "The Indirect Evolutionary Approach to Explaining Fair Allocations," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 13-24, July.
    4. Dekel, Eddie & Scotchmer, Suzanne, 1999. "On the Evolution of Attitudes towards Risk in Winner-Take-All Games," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 87(1), pages 125-143, July.
    5. Steffen Huck & Georg Kirchsteiger & Jörg Oechssler, 2005. "Learning to like what you have - explaining the endowment effect," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(505), pages 689-702, July.
    6. Robson, Arthur J., 1996. "A Biological Basis for Expected and Non-expected Utility," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 68(2), pages 397-424, February.
    7. Samuel Bowles, 1998. "Endogenous Preferences: The Cultural Consequences of Markets and Other Economic Institutions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 75-111, March.
    8. Jorgen W. Weibull, 1997. "Evolutionary Game Theory," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262731215, January.
    9. Karni, Edi & Schmeidler, David, 1986. "Self-preservation as a foundation of rational behavior under risk," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 71-81, March.
    10. Guth, Werner, 1995. "An Evolutionary Approach to Explaining Cooperative Behavior by Reciprocal Incentives," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 24(4), pages 323-344.
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    Cited by:

    1. Häfner, Samuel, 2018. "Stable biased sampling," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 109-122.
    2. Thomas Norman, 2004. "Dynamically Stable Preferences," Economics Series Working Papers 207, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    3. Calabuig, Vicente & Olcina, Gonzalo, 2009. "Cooperation and cultural transmission in a coordination game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 188-201, October.
    4. Heller, Yuval & Mohlin, Erik, 2014. "Coevolution of Deception and Preferences: Darwin and Nash Meet Machiavelli," MPRA Paper 58255, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Sandholm, William H., 2015. "Population Games and Deterministic Evolutionary Dynamics," Handbook of Game Theory with Economic Applications, Elsevier.
    6. Alex Possajennikov, 2004. "Two-Speed Evolution of Strategies and Preferences In Symmetric Games," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 57(3), pages 227-263, November.
    7. Kenichi Amaya, 2004. "An Evolutionary Analysis of Pre-Play Communication and Efficiency in Games," Discussion Paper Series 165, Research Institute for Economics & Business Administration, Kobe University.
    8. Sivan Frenkel & Yuval Heller & Roee Teper, 2017. "The Endowment Effect as a Blessing," Working Papers 2017-06, Bar-Ilan University, Department of Economics.
    9. Roee Teper, 2014. "The Endowment Effect as a Blessing," Working Paper 5862, Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh.
    10. Sandholm, William H., 2007. "Evolution in Bayesian games II: Stability of purified equilibria," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 136(1), pages 641-667, September.
    11. Timur Kuran & William H. Sandholm, 2008. "Cultural Integration and Its Discontents," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(1), pages 201-228.
    12. Norman, Thomas W.L., 2012. "Equilibrium selection and the dynamic evolution of preferences," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 74(1), pages 311-320.
    13. Rieger, Marc Oliver, 2014. "Evolutionary stability of prospect theory preferences," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 1-11.

    More about this item


    evolutionary game theory; evolution of preferences; coordination games;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C73 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Stochastic and Dynamic Games; Evolutionary Games


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