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Towards an understanding of the endogenous nature of identity in games

Smith, John and Bezrukova, Katerina (2009): Towards an understanding of the endogenous nature of identity in games.

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Abstract

We test the assumption that social preferences are unchanged throughout a one-shot strategic game. To do so, we study the relationship between the strategic nature of a game and identification in social groups. In our experiment, the subjects play one of two versions of the prisoner's dilemma game where the attractiveness of the uncooperative action is manipulated. We refer to the version with a relatively attractive uncooperative action as the Mean Game and the other as the Nice Game. Note that choice is relatively more difficult in the Nice Game as a result of the smaller difference between the payoffs associated the actions. We find that the strategic nature of the game affects the strength of identity. Specifically, we find that in the Mean Game there is little difference in the change in identification of those playing cooperatively and those playing uncooperatively. However, in the Nice Game those playing cooperatively exhibit a significantly stronger change in identification than those playing uncooperatively. We also present evidence regarding the timing of the change in identity and what causes this change. In particular, the decision difficulty literature is helpful in interpreting the results.

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