The Impact of the Termination Rule on Cooperation in a Prisoner's Dilemma Experiment

15 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2006 Last revised: 28 Apr 2011

See all articles by Hans-Theo Normann

Hans-Theo Normann

Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf - Department of Economics; Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods

Brian Wallace

University College London - Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution (ELSE)

Date Written: April 27, 2011

Abstract

Cooperation in prisoner's dilemma games can usually be sustained only if the game has an infinite horizon. We analyze to what extent the theoretically crucial distinction of finite vs. infinite-horizon games is reflected in the outcomes of a prisoner's dilemma experiment. We compare three different experimental termination rules in four treatments: a known finite end, an unknown end, and two variants with a random termination rule (with a high and with a low continuation probability, where cooperation can occur in a subgame-perfect equilibrium only with the high probability). We find that the termination rules do not significantly affect average cooperation rates. Specifically, employing a random termination rule does not cause significantly more cooperation compared to a known finite horizon, and the continuation probability does not significantly affect average cooperation rates either. However, the termination rules may influence cooperation over time and end-game behavior. Further, the (expected) length of the game significantly increases cooperation rates. The results suggest that subjects may need at least some learning opportunities (like repetitions of the supergame) before significant backward induction arguments in finitely repeated game have force.

Keywords: Prisoner's dilemma, Repeated games, Infinite-horizon games, Experimental economics

JEL Classification: C72, C92, D21, D43

Suggested Citation

Normann, Hans-Theo and Wallace, Brian, The Impact of the Termination Rule on Cooperation in a Prisoner's Dilemma Experiment (April 27, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=952953 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.952953

Hans-Theo Normann (Contact Author)

Heinrich Heine University Dusseldorf - Department of Economics ( email )

Duesseldorf
Germany

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods ( email )

Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10
D-53113 Bonn, 53113
Germany

Brian Wallace

University College London - Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution (ELSE) ( email )

Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

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