In: Handbook of Game Theory with Economic Applications
This chapter of the Handbook of Game Theory (Vol. 3) provides an overview of the theory of Nash equilibrium and its refinements. The starting-point is the rationalistic approach to games and the question whether there exists a convincing, self-enforcing theory of rational behavior in non-cooperative games. Given the assumption of independent behavior of the players, it follows that a self-enforcing theory has to prescribe a Nash equilibrium, i.e., a strategy profile such that no player can gain by a unilateral deviation. Nash equilibria exist and for generic (finite) games there is a finite number of Nash equilibrium outcomes. The chapter first describes some general properties of Nash equilibria. Next it reviews the arguments why not all Nash equilibria can be considered self-enforcing. For example, some equilibria do not satisfy a backward induction property: as soon as a certain subgame is reached, a player has an incentive to deviate. The concepts of subgame perfect equilibria, perfect equilibria and sequential equilibria are introduced to solve this problem. The chapter defines these concepts, derives properties of these concepts and relates them to other refinements such as proper equilibria and persistent equilibria. It turns out that none of these concepts is fully satisfactory as the outcomes that are implied by any of these concepts are not invariant w.r.t. inessential changes in the game. In addition, these concepts do not satisfy a forward induction requirement. The chapter continues with formalizing these notions and it describes concepts of stable equilibria that do satisfy these properties. This set-valued concept is then related to the other refinements. In the final section of the chapter, the theory of equilibrium selection that was proposed by Harsanyi and Selten is described and applied to several examples. This theory selects a unique equilibrium for every game. Some drawbacks of this theory are noted and avenues for future research are indicated.
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