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Chapter of Book

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biases, game theory, general equilibrium theory, behavioral game theory, social dilemmas, experimental economics, heuristics, bounded rationality, learning in games


People make choices. Often, the outcome depends on choices other people make. What mental steps do people go through when making such choices? Game theory, the most influential model of choice in economics and the social sciences, offers an answer, one based on games of strategy such as chess and checkers: the chooser considers the choices that others will make and makes a choice that will lead to a better outcome for the chooser, given all those choices by other people. It is universally established in the social sciences that classical game theory (even when heavily modified) is bad at predicting behavior. But instead of abandoning classical game theory, those in the social sciences have mounted a rescue operation under the name of “behavioral game theory.” Its main tool is to propose systematic deviations from the predictions of game theory, deviations that arise from character type, for example. Other deviations purportedly come from cognitive overload or limitations. The fundamental idea of behavioral game theory is that, if we know the deviations, then we can correct our predictions accordingly, and so get it right. There are two problems with this rescue operation, each of them is fatal. (1) For a chooser, contemplating the range of possible deviations, as there are many dozens, actually makes it exponentially harder to figure out a path to an outcome. This makes the theoretical models useless for modeling human thought or human behavior in general. (2) Modeling deviations are helpful only if the deviations are consistent, so that scientists (and indeed decision makers) can make predictions about future choices on the basis of past choices. But the deviations are not consistent. In general, deviations from classical models are not consistent for any individual from one task to the next or between individuals for the same task. In addition, people’s beliefs are in general not consistent with their choices. Accordingly, all hope is hollow that we can construct a general behavioral game theory. What can replace it? We survey some of the emerging candidates.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Game theory, Decision making, Rational choice theory, Statistical decision