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What Happens in the Field Stays in the Field: Exploring Whether Professionals Play Minimax in Laboratory Experiments

  • Steven D. Levitt
  • John A. List
  • David H. Reiley, Jr.

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15609.

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Date of creation: Dec 2009
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Publication status: published as Steven D. Levitt & John A. List & David H. Reiley, 2010. "What Happens in the Field Stays in the Field: Exploring Whether Professionals Play Minimax in Laboratory Experiments," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(4), pages 1413-1434, 07.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15609
Note: IO LS
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  1. repec:spr:compst:v:59:y:2004:i:3:p:359-373 is not listed on IDEAS
  2. John Wooders, 2010. "Does Experience Teach? Professionals and Minimax Play in the Lab," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(3), pages 1143-1154, 05.
  3. 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, 09.
  4. 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, 04.
  5. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, 2003. "Professionals Play Minimax," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(2), pages 395-415.
  6. John List & Michael Haigh, 2005. "Do professional traders exhibit myopic loss aversion? An experimental analysis," Artefactual Field Experiments 00052, The Field Experiments Website.
  7. Robert W. Rosenthal & Jason Shachat & Mark Walker, 2003. "Hide and Seek in Arizona," Experimental 0312001, EconWPA.
  8. David Reiley & John List, 2008. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00091, The Field Experiments Website.
  9. 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.
  10. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta & Oscar Volij, 2006. "Experientia Docet: Professionals Play Minimax in Laboratory Experiments," NajEcon Working Paper Reviews 122247000000001050, www.najecon.org.
  11. O'Neill, Barry, 1991. "Comments on Brown and Rosenthal's Reexamination [Testing the Minimax Hypothesis, A Reexamination of O'Neill's Game Experiment]," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(2), pages 503-07, March.
  12. Jason Shachat & J. Todd Swarthout, 2003. "Do We Detect and Exploit Mixed Strategy Play by Opponents?," Experimental 0310001, EconWPA.
  13. Mark Walker & John Wooders, 2001. "Minimax Play at Wimbledon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1521-1538, December.
  14. 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.
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