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What happens in the field stays in the field: Professionals do not play minimax in laboratory experiments

Author

Listed:
  • Steven Levitt
  • John List
  • David Reiley

Abstract

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 (2007) present 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: (1) complementary experimental treatments that pit professionals against preprogrammed computers, and (2) 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Steven Levitt & John List & David Reiley, 2010. "What happens in the field stays in the field: Professionals do not play minimax in laboratory experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00080, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:artefa:00080
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert W. Rosenthal & Jason Shachat & Mark Walker, 2003. "Hide and seek in Arizona," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 32(2), pages 273-293, December.
    2. Lawrence Friedman, 1971. "Optimal Bluffing Strategies in Poker," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 17(12), pages 764-771, August.
    3. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
    4. Michael S. Haigh & John A. List, 2005. "Do Professional Traders Exhibit Myopic Loss Aversion? An Experimental Analysis," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 60(1), pages 523-534, February.
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    6. GlennW. Harrison & JohnA. List, 2008. "Naturally Occurring Markets and Exogenous Laboratory Experiments: A Case Study of the Winner's Curse," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(528), pages 822-843, April.
    7. Ernst Fehr & John A. List, 2004. "The Hidden Costs and Returns of Incentives-Trust and Trustworthiness Among CEOs," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(5), pages 743-771, September.
    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. Jason Shachat & J. Todd Swarthout, 2004. "Do we detect and exploit mixed strategy play by opponents?," Mathematical Methods of Operations Research, Springer;Gesellschaft für Operations Research (GOR);Nederlands Genootschap voor Besliskunde (NGB), vol. 59(3), pages 359-373, July.
    10. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, 2003. "Professionals Play Minimax," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(2), pages 395-415.
    11. Mark Walker & John Wooders, 2001. "Minimax Play at Wimbledon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1521-1538, December.
    12. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
    13. 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.
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    15. repec:spr:compst:v:59:y:2004:i:3:p:359-373 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Emara, Noha & Owens, David & Smith, John & Wilmer, Lisa, 2017. "Serial correlation in National Football League play calling and its effects on outcomes," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 125-132.
    2. Cason, Timothy N. & Friedman, Daniel & Hopkins, Ed, 2010. "Testing the TASP: An experimental investigation of learning in games with unstable equilibria," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 145(6), pages 2309-2331, November.
    3. Romain Gauriot & Lionel Page & John Wooders, 2016. "Nash at Wimbledon: Evidence from Half a Million Serves," QuBE Working Papers 046, QUT Business School.
    4. Subhasish M. Chowdhury & Dan Kovenock & David Rojo Arjona & Nathaniel T. Wilcox, 2016. "Focality and asymmetry in multi-battle contests," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science (CBESS) 16-12, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
    5. Emara, Noha & Owens, David & Smith, John & Wilmer, Lisa, 2014. "Minimax on the gridiron: Serial correlation and its effects on outcomes in the National Football League," MPRA Paper 58907, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Martin G. Kocher & Marc V. Lenz & Matthias Sutter, 2012. "Psychological Pressure in Competitive Environments: New Evidence from Randomized Natural Experiments," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 58(8), pages 1585-1591, August.
    7. Omar Al-Ubaydli & John A. List, 2013. "On the Generalizability of Experimental Results in Economics: With A Response To Camerer," NBER Working Papers 19666, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. repec:bla:ecinqu:v:55:y:2017:i:1:p:368-382 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Van Essen, Matt & Wooders, John, 2015. "Blind stealing: Experience and expertise in a mixed-strategy poker experiment," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 186-206.
    10. Romain Gauriot & Lionel Page & John Wooders, 2016. "Nash at Wimbledon: Evidence from Half a Million Serves," QuBE Working Papers 046, QUT Business School.

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