Economic Theory

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 407–430 | Cite as

Rage against the machines: how subjects play against learning algorithms

  • Peter Duersch
  • Albert Kolb
  • Jörg OechsslerEmail author
  • Burkhard C. Schipper
Open Access
Research Article


We use a large-scale internet experiment to explore how subjects learn to play against computers that are programmed to follow one of a number of standard learning algorithms. The learning theories are (unbeknown to subjects) a best response process, fictitious play, imitation, reinforcement learning, and a trial & error process. We explore how subjects’ performances depend on their opponents’ learning algorithm. Furthermore, we test whether subjects try to influence those algorithms to their advantage in a forward-looking way (strategic teaching). We find that strategic teaching occurs frequently and that all learning algorithms are subject to exploitation with the notable exception of imitation.


Learning Fictitious play Imitation Reinforcement Trial & error Strategic teaching Cournot duopoly Experiments Internet 

JEL Classification

C72 C91 C92 D43 L13 


Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution,and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Duersch
    • 1
  • Albert Kolb
    • 1
  • Jörg Oechssler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Burkhard C. Schipper
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA

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