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When best-replies are not in equilibrium: understanding cooperative behaviour


  • Irenaeus Wolff


To understand cooperative behaviour in social-dilemma experiments, we need to understand the game participants play not only in monetary but in preference terms. Does a Nash-prediction based on participants' actual preferences describe their behaviour in a public-good experiment well? And if not, where does the observed behaviour diverge from the prediction? This study provides an environment which allows to answer these questions: when making their contribution decision, participants are informed about their co-players� priorly-elicited conditional contribution preferences. This induces common knowledge of preferences and thereby leads to direct experimental control over the game participants play. Results show that most people play best-responses to their beliefs. At the same time, beliefs in a third of the cases do not correspond to an equilibrium prediction that is based on the elicited conditional-cooperation preferences. Moreover, more often than not, beliefs are empirically inaccurate. This holds true even in a treatment that gives participants the option to look up the set of equilibria of their game.

Suggested Citation

  • Irenaeus Wolff, 2013. "When best-replies are not in equilibrium: understanding cooperative behaviour," TWI Research Paper Series 88, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
  • Handle: RePEc:twi:respas:0088

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kreps, David M. & Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John & Wilson, Robert, 1982. "Rational cooperation in the finitely repeated prisoners' dilemma," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 245-252, August.
    2. Nicklisch, Andreas & Wolff, Irenaeus, 2012. "On the nature of reciprocity: Evidence from the ultimatum reciprocity measure," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(3), pages 892-905.
    3. 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.
    4. Rödiger, Stefan & Friedrichsmeier, Thomas & Kapat, Prasenjit & Michalke, Meik, 2012. "RKWard: A Comprehensive Graphical User Interface and Integrated Development Environment for Statistical Analysis with R," Journal of Statistical Software, Foundation for Open Access Statistics, vol. 49(i09).
    5. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
    6. Tilman Klumpp, 2012. "Finitely Repeated Voluntary Provision of a Public Good," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 14(4), pages 547-572, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wolff, Irenaeus, 2017. "What are the equilibria in public-good experiments?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 150(C), pages 83-85.
    2. Irenaeus Wolff, 2016. "What are the equilibria in linear public-good experiments?," TWI Research Paper Series 105, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
    3. Brunner, Christoph & Kauffeldt, T. Florian & Rau, Hannes, 2017. "Does mutual knowledge of preferences lead to more equilibrium play? Experimental evidence," Working Papers 0629, University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics.
    4. Dominik Bauer & Irenaeus Wolff, 2018. "Biases in Beliefs: Experimental Evidence," TWI Research Paper Series 109, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
    5. Wolff, Irenaeus, 2017. "(Un-)Stable Preferences, Beliefs, and the Predictability of Behaviour," Annual Conference 2017 (Vienna): Alternative Structures for Money and Banking 168231, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    6. Bauer, Dominik & Wolff, Irenaeus, 2019. "Biases in Beliefs," Annual Conference 2019 (Leipzig): 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall - Democracy and Market Economy 203601, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.

    More about this item


    Public good; social dilemma; Nash-equilibrium; rational beliefs; conditional cooperation; social preferences.;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods

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