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Strategic ignorance in repeated prisoners’ dilemma experiments and its effects on the dynamics of voluntary cooperation


  • Lisa Bruttel

    () (University of Potsdam)

  • Simon Felgendreher

    () (University of Gothenburg)

  • Werner Güth

    () (LUISS Università Guido Carli)

  • Ralph Hertwig

    () (Max Planck Institute for Human Development)


Being ignorant of key aspects of a strategic interaction can represent an advantage rather than a handicap. We study one particular context in which ignorance can be beneficial: iterated strategic interactions in which voluntary cooperation may be sustained into the final round if players voluntarily forego knowledge about the time horizon. We experimentally examine this option to remain ignorant about the time horizon in a finitely repeated two-person prisoners’ dilemma game. We confirm that pairs without horizon knowledge avoid the drop in cooperation that otherwise occurs toward the end of the game. However, this effect is superposed by cooperation declining more rapidly in pairs without horizon knowledge during the middle phase of the game, especially if players do not know that the other player also wanted to remain ignorant of the time horizon.

Suggested Citation

  • Lisa Bruttel & Simon Felgendreher & Werner Güth & Ralph Hertwig, 2019. "Strategic ignorance in repeated prisoners’ dilemma experiments and its effects on the dynamics of voluntary cooperation," CEPA Discussion Papers 10, Center for Economic Policy Analysis.
  • Handle: RePEc:pot:cepadp:10

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    cooperation; experiment; prisoners' dilemma; strategic ignorance;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • D89 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Other

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