, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 603-632

Inferring repeated-game strategies from actions: evidence from trust game experiments

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Combining a strategy model, an inference procedure and a new experimental design, we map sequences of observed actions in repeated games to unobserved strategies that reflect decision-makers’ plans. We demonstrate the method by studying two institutional settings with distinct theoretical predictions. We find that almost all strategies inferred are best responses to one of the inferred strategies of other players, and in one of the settings almost all of the inferred strategies, which include triggers to punish non-cooperators, are consistent with equilibrium strategies. By developing a method to infer unobserved repeated-game strategies from actions, we take a step toward making game theory a more applied tool, bridging a gap between theory and observed behavior.

Received: 23 December 2002, Revised: 19 April 2005,

JEL Classification Numbers:

C72, C80, C90.

The authors are indebted for discussions with Ray Battalio, David Cooper, Robin Dubin, John Duffy, Ellen Garbarino, Susan Helper, Margaret Meyer, John Miller, Jim Rebitzer, Mari Rege, Al Roth, and John Van Huyck. The authors also benefited from discussants at economic department seminars at Case Western Reserve, McMaster and McGill University, University of Pittsburgh, SUNY-Stony Brook, and Texas A&M, and participants at the 2002 European Winter Meeting of the Econometric Society. We are grateful for the financial support provided by the Department of Economics at the University of Pittsburgh and Case Western Reserve University.