Experimental Economics

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 713–726 | Cite as

Who knows it is a game? On strategic awareness and cognitive ability

  • Dietmar FehrEmail author
  • Steffen Huck
Original Paper


We examine strategic awareness in experimental games, that is, the question of whether subjects realize they are playing a game and thus have to form beliefs about others’ actions. We conduct a beauty contest game and elicit measures of cognitive ability and beliefs about others’ cognitive ability. We show that the effect of cognitive ability is highly non-linear. Subjects below a certain threshold choose numbers in the whole interval and their behavior does not correlate with beliefs about others’ ability. In contrast, subjects who exceed the threshold avoid choices above 50 and react very sensitively to beliefs about the cognitive ability of others.


Cognitive ability Beliefs Beauty contest Strategic sophistication Strategic awareness 

JEL Classification

C7 C9 D0 



We thank the Editor, Jacob Goeree, and two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments. We are also grateful to Terry Burnham, Brit Grosskopf, Rosemarie Nagel, Joerg Oechssler and Andrew Schotter for helpful conversations as well as seminar participants for comments. We thank David Cesarini, Pablo Branas-Garza and Teresa Garcia-Munoz for sharing their data. Financial support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) through the SFB 649 “Economic Risk” is gratefully acknowledged.

Supplementary material

10683_2015_9461_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (134 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 133 kb)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.WZB Berlin Social Science CenterBerlinGermany
  2. 2.University College LondonLondonUK

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