Philosophy, Politics and Economics
313 Cohen Hall
249 South 36th Street
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104




Opportunistic Conformism (joint with G. Charness and M. Naef). We examine a novel class of conformist preferences that is within the realm of psychological game theory. We propose that beliefs about the behavior of individuals in the same role (i.e., beliefs about “peer behavior”) directly affect a player’s utility. In examining conformism we propose an experimental design that verifies the presence of the relevant causality direction. Our data reveal “opportunistically conformist” behavior, as subjects are more likely to follow the purported majority if doing so implies an increase in expected material payoff. We provide a theoretical model that accounts for such a pattern.




Game-Theoretic Accounts of Social Norms (joint with C. Bicchieri) in The Handbook of Experimental Game Theory, ed. Mónica Capra, Rachel Croson, Tanya Rosenblatt, and Mary Rigdon. Edward Elgar Publishing, forthcoming.


Social norms and social preferences have increasingly become an integral part of the economics discourse. After disentangling the two notions, this paper focuses on social norms, which we stipulate as group-specific solutions to strategic problems. More precisely, we define social norms as behavioral regularities emerging in mixed-motive games, as a result of preferences for conformity conditional on an endogenous set of beliefs and expectations. To that end, we review models that explicitly feature normative expectations, as well as models that account for category-specific prescriptions. We finally survey some relevant experimental evidence.




I Cannot Cheat on You after We Talk (joint with C. Bicchieri) in The Prisoner’s Dilemma, ed. Martin Peterson. Cambridge University Press, 2015.  [This is part of a collection of research papers on social dilemmas, from different perspectives. The list of contributors to this volume includes K. Binmore, G. Bonanno, C. Holt, etc.]

Experimental evidence on pre-play communication supports a “focusing function of communication” hypothesis. Relevant communication facilitates cooperative, pro-social behavior because it causes a shift in individuals’ focus towards strategies dictated by some salient social norm. After reviewing the formal foundations for a general theory of conformity to social norms, we provide an original application illustrating how a framework that allows for different conjectures about norms is able to capture the focusing function of communication and to explain experimental results.




A Notion of Prominence for Strategic Games (joint with S. Bhatia). Identifying the best course of action in games with multiple equilibria is a long-standing unresolved issue in strategic interaction. The concept of prominence as a criterion for equilibrium selection has been suggested, but has remained for the most part an informal notion, without a psychologically grounded characterization. In this paper we propose one such characterization: by drawing on existing theories of human memory, language, and decision making we define prominence in terms of frequency of exposure. In particular, we consider games where strategies are denoted by natural language labels, and we measure the prominence of each strategy by how often its label occurs in natural language corpora. Our specification of prominence yields sharp quantitative predictions about behavior in coordination and discoordination problems. Here we present three studies designed to test such predictions, and show that individuals do select strategies that fulfill our definition of prominence and they furthermore do so in a (boundedly) rational manner.




A Dynamic Model of Belief-Dependent Conformity to Social Norms. Human conduct is often guided by “conformist preferences”, which thrive on behavioral expectations within a society, with conformity being the act of changing one’s behavior to match the purported beliefs of others. Despite a growing research line considering preferences for a fair outcome allocation, economic theories do not explain the fundamental conditions for some social norm – whether of fairness or not – to be followed. Inspired by Bicchieri’s account of norms (C.Bicchieri, The Grammar of Society. CambridgeUP [2006]),  I develop a behavioral theory of norm conformity building on the Battigalli-Dufwenberg “psychological” framework (P.Battigalli and M.Dufwenberg, Dynamic Psychological Games, J.Econ.Theory, 144:1-35 [2009]).



Escher - Belvedere

M. C. Escher: Belvedere