IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Strategic Ignorance in Bargaining


  • Conrads, Julian

    () (University of Cologne)

  • Irlenbusch, Bernd

    () (University of Cologne)


In his classic article "An Essay on Bargaining" Schelling (1956) argues that ignorance might actually be strength rather than weakness. We test and confirm Schelling's conjecture in a simple take-it-or-leave bargaining experiment where the proposer can choose between two possible offers. Option A always gives the proposer a higher payoff than option B. The payoff of the responder depends on the (randomly determined) state of nature, i.e., in state s2 payoffs of the two players are aligned while they are not in state s1. The responder is always informed about the actual state. The proposer knows the actual state in our first treatment but not in the second. We find that proposers indeed benefit from ignorance because the responders accept almost all offers (even the unfavorable ones) if the payoffs of the responder have not been transparent for the proposer. In additional treatments we investigate situations where the proposer can deliberately remain ignorant. One could assume that remaining ignorant on purpose would be punished by the responder at least if an unfavorable outcome results. Surprisingly, we find that strategically remaining ignorant tends to be beneficial for the proposer particularly if the responder does not know with certainty whether it was the proposer's intention to remain ignorant or whether it was not her intention.

Suggested Citation

  • Conrads, Julian & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2011. "Strategic Ignorance in Bargaining," IZA Discussion Papers 6087, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6087

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
    2. Jordi Brandts & Gary Charness, 2011. "The strategy versus the direct-response method: a first survey of experimental comparisons," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 14(3), pages 375-398, September.
    3. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
    4. Falk, Armin & Fehr, Ernst & Fischbacher, Urs, 2008. "Testing theories of fairness--Intentions matter," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 62(1), pages 287-303, January.
    5. Anders Poulsen & Jonathan Tan, 2007. "Information acquisition in the ultimatum game: An experimental study," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(4), pages 391-409, December.
    6. Broberg, Tomas & Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus, 2007. "Is generosity involuntary?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 94(1), pages 32-37, January.
    7. David K. Levine, 1998. "Modeling Altruism and Spitefulness in Experiment," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(3), pages 593-622, July.
    8. Thomas Gehrig & Werner Güth & René Levínský, 2003. "Ultimatum Offers and the Role of Transparency: An Experimental Study of Information Acquisition," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2003-16, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
    9. Guth, Werner & Huck, Steffen & Muller, Wieland, 2001. "The Relevance of Equal Splits in Ultimatum Games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 37(1), pages 161-169, October.
    10. Bolton Gary E. & Zwick Rami, 1995. "Anonymity versus Punishment in Ultimatum Bargaining," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 95-121, July.
    11. Tara Larson & C. Monica Capra, 2009. "Exploiting moral wiggle room: Illusory preference for fairness? A comment," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 4(6), pages 467-474, October.
    12. Kagel, John H. & Kim, Chung & Moser, Donald, 1996. "Fairness in Ultimatum Games with Asymmetric Information and Asymmetric Payoffs," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 100-110, March.
    13. Greiner, Ben, 2004. "An Online Recruitment System for Economic Experiments," MPRA Paper 13513, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Gehrig, Thomas & Güth, Werner & Levínsky, René, 2006. "(In)Transparency of Information Acquisition: A Bargaining Experiment," CEPR Discussion Papers 5817, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    15. Anders U. Poulsen & Michael V. M. Roos, 2009. "Do People Make Strategic Moves? Experimental Evidence on Strategic Information Avoidance," Discussion Papers 09-06, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    16. Jason Dana & Roberto Weber & Jason Kuang, 2007. "Exploiting moral wiggle room: experiments demonstrating an illusory preference for fairness," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 33(1), pages 67-80, October.
    17. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
    18. Carpenter, Jeffrey & Verhoogen, Eric & Burks, Stephen, 2005. "The effect of stakes in distribution experiments," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 86(3), pages 393-398, March.
    19. Falk, Armin & Fehr, Ernst, 2003. "Why labour market experiments?," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 399-406, August.
    20. Guth, Werner & Schmittberger, Rolf & Schwarze, Bernd, 1982. "An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 367-388, December.
    21. Roth, Alvin E & Murnighan, J Keith, 1982. "The Role of Information in Bargaining: An Experimental Study," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(5), pages 1123-1142, September.
    22. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Grossman, Zachary & van der Weele, Joël, 2013. "Self-Image and Strategic Ignorance in Moral Dilemmas," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt0bp6z29t, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
    2. Bartling, Björn & Engl, Florian & Weber, Roberto A., 2014. "Does willful ignorance deflect punishment? – An experimental study," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 512-524.

    More about this item


    intentions; bargaining; strategic ignorance; experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6087. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Mark Fallak). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.