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Split or Steal? Cooperative Behavior When the Stakes Are Large

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

37 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2010 Last revised: 23 Jan 2013

Martijn J. van den Assem

VU Amsterdam - School of Business and Economics

Dennie van Dolder

Department of Finance - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics (CeDEx) - University of Nottingham

Richard H. Thaler

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

Date Written: September 12, 2011

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.

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

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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1592456

Martijn J. Van den Assem (Contact Author)

VU Amsterdam - School of Business and Economics ( email )

De Boelelaan 1105
Amsterdam, 1081HV
Netherlands

Dennie Van Dolder

Department of Finance - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam ( email )

De Boelelaan 1105
Amsterdam
Netherlands

Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics (CeDEx) - University of Nottingham ( email )

University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD
United Kingdom

Richard H. Thaler

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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)

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