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Split or Steal? Cooperative Behavior When the Stakes Are Large


Martijn J. Van den Assem


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Economics (ESE)

Dennie Van Dolder


School of Economics - University of Nottingham

Richard H. Thaler


University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

September 12, 2011

Management Science, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 2-20, January 2012

Abstract:     
We examine cooperative behavior when large sums of money are at stake, using data from the TV game show “Golden Balls.” At the end of each episode, contestants play a variant on the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma for large and widely ranging stakes averaging over $20,000. Cooperation is surprisingly high for amounts that would normally be considered consequential but look tiny in their current context, what we call a “big peanuts” phenomenon. Utilizing the prior interaction among contestants, we find evidence that people have reciprocal preferences. Surprisingly, there is little support for conditional cooperation in our sample. That is, players do not seem to be more likely to cooperate if their opponent might be expected to cooperate. Further, we replicate earlier findings that males are less cooperative than females, but this gender effect reverses for older contestants because men become increasingly cooperative as their age increases.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 37

Keywords: natural experiment, game show, prisoner’s dilemma, cooperation, cooperative behavior, social behavior, social preferences, reciprocity, reciprocal behavior, context effects, anchoring

JEL Classification: C72, C93, D03

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Date posted: April 19, 2010 ; Last revised: January 23, 2013

Suggested Citation

Van den Assem, Martijn J. and Van Dolder, Dennie and Thaler, Richard H., Split or Steal? Cooperative Behavior When the Stakes Are Large (September 12, 2011). Management Science, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 2-20, January 2012. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1592456

Contact Information

Martijn J. Van den Assem (Contact Author)
Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) ( email )
P.O. Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam, NL 3062 PA
Netherlands
Dennie Van Dolder
School of Economics - University of Nottingham ( email )
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD
United Kingdom
Richard H. Thaler
University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )
5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-5208 (Phone)
773-702-0458 (Fax)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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