Experimental Economics

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 705–734 | Cite as

Directional behavioral spillover and cognitive load effects in multiple repeated games

  • Tracy Xiao Liu
  • Jenna Bednar
  • Yan ChenEmail author
  • Scott Page
Original Paper


In this study, we use a novel design to test for directional behavioral spillover and cognitive load effects in a set of multiple repeated games. Specifically, in our experiment, each subject plays a common historical game with two different matches for 100 rounds. After 100 rounds, the subject switches to a new game with one match and continues playing the historical game with the other match. This design allows us to identify the direction of any behavioral spillover. Our results show that participants exhibit both behavioral spillover and cognitive load effects. First, for pairs of Prisoners’ Dilemma and Alternation games, we find that subjects apply strategies from the historical game when playing the new game. Second, we find that those who participate in a Self Interest game as either their historical or new game achieve Pareto efficient outcomes more often in the Prisoners’ Dilemma and Alternation games compared to their control counterparts. Overall, our results show that, when faced with a new game, participants use strategies that reflect both behavioral spillover and cognitive load effects.


Multiple games Repeated games Behavioral spillovers Cognitive load Entropy 

JEL Classification

C72 C91 D03 



We would like to thank Andrea Jones-Rooy, Zhewei Song and Chao Tang for excellent research assistance, Nancy Kotzian, two anonymous referees and the co-editor, Marie Claire Villeval, for their thoughtful and constructive comments. The financial support from the National Science Foundation through Grant no. BCS-1111019 to Chen and the Natural Science Foundation of China through grant no. 71403140 to Liu is gratefully acknowledged. The research has been approved by the University of Michigan IRB.

Supplementary material

10683_2018_9570_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (29 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 28 kb)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsTsinghua UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.School of InformationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Departments of Political Science and Economics, Center for the Study of Complex SystemsUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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