A Conversational War of Attrition

49 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2013 Last revised: 5 Apr 2017

See all articles by Katalin Bognar

Katalin Bognar


Moritz Meyer-ter-Vehn

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Lones Smith

University of Wisconsin at Madison - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 4, 2017


We explore costly deliberation by two differentially informed and possibly biased jurors: A hawk Lones and a dove Moritz alternately insist on a verdict until one concedes.

Debate assumes one of two genres, depending on bias: A juror, say Lones, is intransigent if he wishes to prevail and reach a conviction for any type of Moritz next to concede. In contrast, Lones is ambivalent if he wants the strongest conceding types of Moritz to push for acquittal. Both jurors are ambivalent with minimal bias or high delay costs. As Lones grows more hawkish, he argues more forcefully for convictions, mitigating wrongful acquittals. If dovish Moritz is intransigent, then he softens (strategic substitutes), leading to more wrongful convictions. Ambivalent debate is new, and yields a novel dynamic benefit of increased polarization. For if Moritz is ambivalent, then he toughens (strategic complements), and so, surprisingly, a more hawkish Lones leads to fewer wrongful acquittals and convictions. So more polarized but balanced debate can improve communication, unlike in static cheap talk.

We also show that patient and not too biased jurors vote against their posteriors near the end of the debate, optimally playing devil's advocate.

We shed light on the adversarial legal system, peremptory challenges, and cloture rules.

Keywords: cheap talk, committee decision making, pivot voting, juries, adversarial system, peremptory challenges, debate, deliberation, polarization, devil's advocate, monotone comparative statics, war of attrition, nonlinear difference equations

JEL Classification: D71, D72, D82, D83, C62, C72

Suggested Citation

Bognar, Katalin and Meyer-ter-Vehn, Moritz and Smith, Lones, A Conversational War of Attrition (April 4, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2334503 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2334503

Katalin Bognar

Independent ( email )

Moritz Meyer-ter-Vehn (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) ( email )

405 Hilgard Avenue
Box 951361
Los Angeles, CA 90095
United States

Lones Smith

University of Wisconsin at Madison - Department of Economics ( email )

1180 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706-1393
United States
608-263-3871 (Phone)
608-262-2033 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.lonessmith.com

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