Experientia docet: Professionals play minimax in laboratory experiments

Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, Oscar Volij

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


We study how professional players and college students play zero-sum two-person strategic games in a laboratory setting. We first ask professionals to play a 2 × 2 game that is formally identical to a strategic interaction situation that they face in their natural environment. Consistent with their behavior in the field, they play very close to the equilibrium of the game. In particular, (i) they equate their strategies' payoffs to the equilibrium ones and (ii) they generate sequences of choices that are serially independent. In sharp contrast, however, we find that college students play the game far from the equilibrium predictions. We then study the behavior of professional players and college students in the classic O'Neill 4 × 4 zero-sum game, a game that none of the subjects has encountered previously, and find the same differences in the behavior of these two pools of subjects. The transfer of skills and experience from the familiar field to the unfamiliar laboratory observed for professional players is relevant to evaluate the circumstances under which behavior in a laboratory setting may be a reliable indicator of behavior in a naturally occurring setting. From a cognitive perspective, it is useful for research on recognition processes, intuition, and similarity as a basis for inductive reasoning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-115
Number of pages45
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2008


  • Cognition
  • Experience
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Minimax

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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