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Do People Plan?


  • John Bone
  • John D Hey
  • John Suckling


We report the results of an experimental investigation of a key axiom of economic theories of dynamic decision making – namely, that agents plan. Inferences from previous investigations have been confounded with issues concerning the preference functionals of the agents. Here, we present an innovative experimental design which is driven purely by dominance- if preferences satisfy dominance, we can infer whether subjects are planning or not. We implement three sets of experiments: the first two (the Individual Treatments) in which the same player takes decisions both in the present and the future; and the third (the Pairs Treatment) in which different players take decisions at different times. The two Individual treatments differed in that, in one, the subjects played sequentially, while, in the other, the subjects had to pre-commit to their future move. In all contexts, according to economic theory, the players in the present should anticipate the decision of the player in the future. We find that over half the participants in all three experimental treatments do not appear to be planning ahead; moreover, their ability to plan ahead does not improve with experience, except possibly when we force subjects to pre-commit to their future decision. These findings identify an important lacuna in economic theories, both for individual behaviour and for behaviour in games.

Suggested Citation

  • John Bone & John D Hey & John Suckling, 2007. "Do People Plan?," Discussion Papers 07/31, Department of Economics, University of York.
  • Handle: RePEc:yor:yorken:07/31

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. John D. Hey, 2002. "Experimental Economics and the Theory of Decision Making Under Risk and Uncertainty," The Geneva Risk and Insurance Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics (The Geneva Association), vol. 27(1), pages 5-21, June.
    2. John D. Bone & John D. Hey & John R. Suckling, 2003. "Do people plan ahead?," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(5), pages 277-280, April.
    3. T. Randolph Beard & Richard O. Beil, 1994. "Do People Rely on the Self-Interested Maximization of Others? An Experimental Test," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 40(2), pages 252-262, February.
    4. Cubitt, Robin P & Starmer, Chris & Sugden, Robert, 1998. "Dynamic Choice and the Common Ratio Effect: An Experimental Investigation," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(450), pages 1362-1380, September.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Many people do not plan ahead
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2009-11-06 21:59:00


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    Cited by:

    1. Esteban F. Klor & Sebastian Kube & Eyal Winter & Ro'i Zultan, 2011. "Can Higher Bonuses Lead to Less E ort? Incentive Reversal in Teams," Levine's Working Paper Archive 786969000000000073, David K. Levine.
    2. Rydval, Ondrej & Ortmann, Andreas & Ostatnicky, Michal, 2009. "Three very simple games and what it takes to solve them," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 589-601, October.
    3. repec:eee:joepsy:v:61:y:2017:i:c:p:152-175 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Vincent Anesi & Philippe De Donder, 2011. "Secondary issues and party politics: an application to environmental policy," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 36(3), pages 519-546, April.
    5. Anna Conte & M. Levati, 2014. "Use of data on planned contributions and stated beliefs in the measurement of social preferences," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 76(2), pages 201-223, February.
    6. van Winden, Frans, 2015. "Political economy with affect: On the role of emotions and relationships in political economics," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 40(PB), pages 298-311.
    7. Masiliūnas, Aidas, 2017. "Overcoming coordination failure in a critical mass game: Strategic motives and action disclosure," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 214-251.
    8. Klor, Esteban F. & Kube, Sebastian & Winter, Eyal & Zultan, Ro’i, 2014. "Can higher rewards lead to less effort? Incentive reversal in teams," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 72-83.
    9. Spiro, Daniel, 2014. "Resource prices and planning horizons," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 159-175.
    10. Diasakos, Theodoros M, 2013. "Complexity and Bounded Rationality in Individual Decision Problemsing," SIRE Discussion Papers 2013-93, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D90 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - General

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