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

Research

 

Links to papers are on my Google Scholar profile. For abstracts, see below.

 

 

 

The Doors of Perception (joint with G. Charness). We investigate how a player’s strategic behavior is affected by the set of notions she uses in thinking about the game, i.e., the “frame”. To do so, we consider matching games where two players are presented with a set of objects, from which each player must privately choose one (with the goal of matching the counterpart’s choice). We propose a behavioral theory positing that different player types are aware of different attributes of the strategy options, hence different frames; we then rationalize why differences in players’ frames may lead to differences in choice behavior. Unlike previous theories of framing, our model features an epistemic structure allowing for the case in which an individual learns new frames, given some initial unawareness (of the fact that her perception of attributes may be incomplete). To test our model, we introduce an experimental design in which we bring about different frames by manipulating subjects’ awareness of various attributes. The experimental results provide striking support for our theory.

 

 

 

Opportunistic Conformism (joint with G. Charness and M. Naef; Journal of Economic Theory). 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.

 

 

 

A Notion of Prominence for Games with Natural-Language Labels (joint with S. Bhatia; R&R Quantitative Economics). We study games with natural-language labels (i.e., strategic problems where options are denoted by words), for which we propose and test a measurable characterization of prominence. We assume that – ceteris paribus – players find particularly prominent those strategies that are denoted by labels frequently used in everyday language. To operationalize this assumption, we suggest that the prominence of a strategy-label is correlated with its frequency of occurrence in large text corpora. In order to test for the strategic use of word frequency, we consider experimental games with different incentive structures (such as incentives to and not to coordinate) as well as subjects from different cultural/linguistic backgrounds. We find that frequently-mentioned labels are more (less) likely to be selected when there are incentives to match (mismatch) others. Furthermore, varying one’s knowledge of the others’ cultural background significantly affects one’s reliance on word frequency. Overall, our studies suggest that individuals select strategies that fulfill our characterization of prominence in a boundedly rational manner.

 

 

 

Game-Theoretic Accounts of Social Norms (joint with C. Bicchieri) in The Handbook of Experimental Game Theory, ed. C. Monica Capra, Rachel Croson, Mary Rigdon and Tanya Rosenblat. 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, at the intersection of game theory and philosophy. 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 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