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Strategic complexity and the value of thinking

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  • David Gill
  • Victoria Prowse

Abstract

Response times are a simple low-cost indicator of the process of reasoning in strategic games. In this paper, we leverage the dynamic nature of response-time data from repeated strategic interactions to measure the strategic complexity of a situation by how long people think on average when they face that situation (where we categorize situations according to the characteristics of play in the previous round). We find that strategic complexity varies significantly across situations, and we find considerable heterogeneity in how responsive subjects’ thinking times are to complexity. We also study how variation in response times at the individual level across rounds affects strategic behavior and success. We find that ‘overthinking’ is detrimental to performance: when a subject thinks for longer than she would normally do in a particular situation, she wins less frequently and earns less. The behavioral mechanism that drives the reduction in performance is a tendency to move away from Nash equilibrium behavior. Overthinking is detrimental even though subjects who think for longer on average tend to be more successful. Finally, cognitive ability and personality have no effect on average response times.

Suggested Citation

  • David Gill & Victoria Prowse, 2017. "Strategic complexity and the value of thinking," Purdue University Economics Working Papers 1296, Purdue University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:pur:prukra:1296
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    Cited by:

    1. Alaoui, Larbi & Janezic, Katharina A. & Penta, Antonio, 2020. "Reasoning about others' reasoning," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 189(C).
    2. Carlos Alós-Ferrer & Johannes Buckenmaier, 2018. "Cognitive sophistication and deliberation times," ECON - Working Papers 292, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Apr 2019.
    3. Grabiszewski, Konrad & Horenstein, Alex, 2020. "Effort is not a monotonic function of skills: Results from a global mobile experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 176(C), pages 634-652.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Response time; decision time; thinking time; strategic complexity; game theory; strategic games; repeated games; beauty contest; cognitive ability; personality;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior

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