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The Speed of Learning in Noisy Games: Partial Reinforcement and the Sustainability of Cooperation

Listed author(s):
  • Roth, Alvin
  • Bereby-Meyer, Yoella

In an experiment, players’ ability to learn to cooperate in the repeated prisoner’s dilemma was substantially diminished when the payoffs were noisy, even though players could monitor one another's past actions perfectly. In contrast, in one-time play against a succession of opponents, noisy payoffs increased cooperation, by slowing the rate at which cooperation decays. These observations are consistent with the robust observation from the psychology literature that partial reinforcement (adding randomness to the link between an action and its consequences while holding expected payoffs constant) slows learning. This effect is magnified in the repeated game: When others are slow to learn to cooperate, the benefits of cooperation are reduced, which further hampers cooperation. These results show that a small change in the payoff environment, which changes the speed of individual learning, can have a large effect on collective behavior. And they show that there may be interesting comparative dynamics that can be derived from careful attention to the fact that at least some economic behavior is learned from experience.

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File URL: http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/2580381/Roth_Noisygames_retry.pdf
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Paper provided by Harvard University Department of Economics in its series Scholarly Articles with number 2580381.

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Date of creation: 2006
Publication status: Published in American Economic Review
Handle: RePEc:hrv:faseco:2580381
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Web page: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/

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  1. Roth, Alvin E. & Sonmez, Tayfun & Utku Unver, M., 2005. "Pairwise kidney exchange," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 125(2), pages 151-188, December.
  2. Atila Abdulkadiroğlu & Parag A. Pathak & Alvin E. Roth, 2005. "The New York City High School Match," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 364-367, May.
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  4. Cooper, Russell & DeJong, Douglas V. & Forsythe, Robert & Ross, Thomas W., 1996. "Cooperation without Reputation: Experimental Evidence from Prisoner's Dilemma Games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 187-218, February.
  5. Erev, Ido & Roth, Alvin E, 1998. "Predicting How People Play Games: Reinforcement Learning in Experimental Games with Unique, Mixed Strategy Equilibria," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(4), pages 848-881, September.
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  11. Alvin E. Roth & Tayfun Sönmez, 2005. "A Kidney Exchange Clearinghouse in New England," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 376-380, May.
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  13. Atila Abdulkadiroğlu & Parag A. Pathak & Alvin E. Roth & Tayfun Sönmez, 2005. "The Boston Public School Match," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 368-371, May.
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  16. Nick Feltovich & John Duffy, 1999. "Does observation of others affect learning in strategic environments? An experimental study," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 28(1), pages 131-152.
  17. Milgrom,Paul, 2004. "Putting Auction Theory to Work," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521536721, December.
  18. Stahl, Dale O., 2000. "Rule Learning in Symmetric Normal-Form Games: Theory and Evidence," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 105-138, July.
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  21. Sainty, Barbara, 1999. "Achieving greater cooperation in a noisy prisoner's dilemma: an experimental investigation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 421-435, July.
  22. Miller, John H., 1996. "The coevolution of automata in the repeated Prisoner's Dilemma," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 87-112, January.
  23. Erev, Ido & Bereby-Meyer, Yoella & Roth, Alvin E., 1999. "The effect of adding a constant to all payoffs: experimental investigation, and implications for reinforcement learning models," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 111-128, May.
  24. Dale O. Stahl, 1999. "Evidence based rules and learning in symmetric normal-form games," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 28(1), pages 111-130.
  25. Per Molander, 1985. "The Optimal Level of Generosity in a Selfish, Uncertain Environment," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 29(4), pages 611-618, December.
  26. Nick Feltovich, 2000. "Reinforcement-Based vs. Belief-Based Learning Models in Experimental Asymmetric-Information," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(3), pages 605-642, May.
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