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2020 Year in Review

This year was quite bad globally, but I think this was so mostly from our point of view as Westerners. Pandemics, disasters and strife have been going on unabated in developing countries for many years. It just did not feel relevant to us. Malaria, AIDS, political unrest, etc, those were mainly things that affected poor countries. Now, with the coronavirus and the populist agitation in the US and Europe, they also affect us. Well, to be fair, and at least for now, mainly, poor people among us… I do hope we find ways to deal with those issues, mainly by renewing the involvement of citizens in information gathering and decision making.

With this preamble, the year was actually not all that bad for me. I was surprisingly active in furthering my research, but not successful, just, in finally obtaining a permanent position in academia.

Munich: The year started very nicely with a research visit in January to Caterina Giannetti, who was spending one month at the University of Munich, where she was accomodated by Simeon Schudy at the at LMU Munich. We finalised the design of our experiment on using robo-advisers as commitment devices – Think Forward Initiative (en), whereby we brain stormed a two-by-two treatment design mixing sophistication and rigidity of the advice given by the robo-adviser.

Colombia: Barely back from Munich (which surprised me for its relaxed, chic and almost Austrian ambiance), I went in February and March for a three weeks field trip in Colombia with Marcela Ibañez. We spent the first few days in Bogotá, where Marcela knows many researchers at the Universidad de los Andes. Then we went to Medellín to meet our local parners, namely Juan Carlos Muñoz Mora at the EAFIT and Carlos Adrián Saldarriaga at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. I gave a seminar at EAFIT on the willingness to pay for advice from experts, but mainly, we discussed a research plan to investigate the effect of mining activity on the social preferences and cohesion of local communities. We also managed to get interviews at the mining ministry, some mining companies, and with some social activists. Then on we went to visit possible research locations.

The principle was to identify areas with old, new, projected, and no mining activities, as comparable ones with the others. So Marcela and I first travelled north, to Buriticá, a mining town moving from illegal to legal gold mining. Then after two days there, we briefly went back to Medellín to then go with Carlos Adrian to Jerico, Jardin and RioSucio, which are cities with projected mining, rejection of mining, and no mining respectively.

A pause 3000m meters high!

Particularly great was the trip between Jardin and Riosucio, which we did by the “direct” unpaved route going as high as 3000 meters. In Rio Sucio was Marcela’s family, a well-established and old family of the region, with its own separate and beautiful cemetery, as they were not catholics but rather of a separate version of christianity. At that point, I was free to do a bit of tourism, and I went to the Cocora Valley. Yes, I know, cliché, but that area is really beautiful, I had some great hike and visited a very interesting coffee plantation. Seriously, sometimes, just do what other people do, it is not that bad :) On the way back to Bogota, I passed by Ibagué, the music capital of Colombia. In Bogotá, I mainly made sure to bring back the good stuff, i.e. chocolate a la tassa, pane de azucar, aguardiente, etc…

Göttingen: Those provisions, which I had planned to spread around, were a great support to me as we went back in the middle of March. This was the first corona lockdown in Germany… as for everyone, this was a time of adjustment, learning to work at home and buying a screen, a table, a printer, a working chair, and getting an Internet connection, as really, I did not have any home office. My principle up to now had been to separate strictly home and office. Good luck with that now…

Once this done, it was time to prepare applications for jobs, esp. getting qualified for a professorship in France on the basis of my habilitation in Germany (done), applying for professorships in France, and for research positions at the CNRS and INRAE. I got furthest at the University of Caen (ranked second for a professorship) and at the INRAE GAEL laboratory in Grenoble (ranked second as well).

Recovering from the disappointment was a bit hard, but I got other things to concentrate on, in June and August, with intensive meditation practice during two “Buddha Camps” (several days of full day meditations), organised by the Lebendiges Zen association in Deppoldshausen, under the free sky in a beautiful location close to Göttingen, where we simply camped and meditated outside to avoid contamination. This was great, a part of rediscovery of the activity of nature, something that many people experienced in those days.

Austria: Also, almost as soon as the lockdown was over, in July, I went to Austria by train to visit Katharina Gangl, with whom I work on a project about ethics in business, which is related to her work on taxation. We took the opportunity to go in her region, Styria, where we rented an appartment with this amazing view of Sankt Anna am Aigen. Katharina’s father treated us to a wonderful diner (he was a restaurateur, now food producer), and I enjoyed the sweet white wine of the region

Italy: Right before the second lockdown started, in October, I went to Pisa to give a seminar on my joint work with Caterina Giannetti about the use of robo-advisers in stock trading. I stayed one week there as we worked on finalizing our report for our funding body, the Think Forward Initiative. In the months before, I had done the programming for the experiment, to be run online over three weeks. It went very smoothly, with the aid of oTree and of automated email reminder services to tell participants when to trade.

Teaching: Back to Germany, I got an extension of my contract at the University of Göttingen until March 2021, mainly to take care of tutorials in the course in advanced microeconomics for the Winter Semester, which this year goes on totally online. I chose to offer in-presence tutorials, mainly to give an opportunity for students to meet in person, something that they said they missed a lot in the summer semester. I worked quite a bit on making written corrections even easier to follow and understand. As for online videos, I decided to go for the simplest, simply videotaping myself writing and explaining corrections on the board. This is less boring for the viewer, as I accompany explanations with movement. I do not juggle yet while teaching, but I am thinking about it.

I also offered a seminar on the role of experts, both in the Summer semester for students in Göttingen, and in the Winter semester (now) for students in Jena, where I am a Privat-Dozent. That seminar, described here (The problem with experts (and those who do not listen to them), was my modest contribution to trying to understand both populist movements and the corona crisis, characterised by their denial of expert advice, spread of conspiracy theories, and both encouraged by frankly bungled government policies. I got full attendance in both seminars, with all topics taken, and very interesting and well done presentation, at least so far for students in Göttingen. I can say that I found a topic they are really interested in :)

Research: In terms of research, the year was also quite good. With Stephan Müller and Claudia Keser, we got a R&R from Games and Economic Behavior for our paper on the evolution of morals under indirect reciprocity (repec.org), and with Paolo Crosetto, a R&R at Management Science for our paper Fast then slow: A choice process explanation for the attraction effect (repec.org). Revisions for those two papers kept me busy in August and September, especially for the second one, for which I am developing a version of the multiattribute linear ballistic accumulator model of context effects in multialternative choice – PubMed (nih.gov) to account for revisions in choice.

Perspectives: My main goals for 2021 are to 1) find a position in academia or in policy-making. I have applications going on in many great places, but competition is tough 2) run experiments that are already funded but that I could not run in 2020 because they require physical presence (in order to measure physiological responses to stimuli) 3) get my paper with Paolo published in Management Science 4) write a research proposal about how people revise their choices, to be submitted to the DFG and the ERC 5) explore further my practice of Zen Buddhism 6) in relation to this, travel to Japan and do the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, or if this is not possible or too expensive this year due to the Olympics, go hike in the Himalayas. If this is also not possible due to COVID, find another long hike to do closer to home.

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Using robo-advisers as commitment devices

Buy Trading GIF by AvaTrade
Buy when going up? Sell when going down?

https://www.thinkforwardinitiative.com/research/using-robo-advisers-as-commitment-devices

The link above is a report I wrote with Caterina Giannetti about some research we did that was financed by the Think Forward Initiative (https://www.thinkforwardinitiative.com).

We were investigating the use of robo-advice, that is, advice that is given by algorithms rather than by humans. This has great potential to help people make better decisions cheaply. However, in the special case of stock trading, we found that people were decidely not very enthusiastic (only about 30% wanted to use them).

However, we also found that people preferred active vs. passive robo-traders, and they liked to be able to override decisions made by the algorithm. There was also a typical Dunning-Kruger effect, as those who would have profited from advice the most were the least willing to get it.

The experiment was nicely designed so people traded via their smartphone over three weeks, with 3 trading periods per day, and 3 stocks to trade each period. Participants thereby gained lots of experience. We had high participation (trading 2 times per day on average) and low drop-out rate (6%).

The analysis we report at the link above is still very preliminary. In the coming academic paper, we will focus on who gains from using robo-advisers and who avoids them. We will go deeper into individual differences, and how adoption of a robo-adviser depends on trading style and events during preceding periods.

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A measure of the implicit value of privacy risk

In those days where some people already call for Chinese-style control of personal activity to stop the spread of the coronavirus, I am happy to report that Alisa Frik and I finally managed to publish our paper about the value of privacy.

Frik, A. and Gaudeul, A. (2020), “A measure of the implicit value of privacy under risk”, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCM-06-2019-3286

In that paper, also available here, we argue that the economic value of privacy must be measured in its proper context, that is, when there is a *risk* to privacy.

We argue that letting people choose between some money and playing lotteries with their private information is more informative and relevant than asking them to “buy” or “sell” their private information. Below is the type of decisions people made.

From people’s decisions, we derive estimates of how much they value privacy that are more reasonable and reliable than standard “Willingness to Pay” (WTP) and “Willingness to Accept” (WTA). Furthermore, our estimates are more directly useful for economists than attitudes to privacy derived from surveys.

The private information we got from people were answers to a survey on attitudes to a range of policy issues. If people lost the privacy lottery, then their answers were revealed to others. Not a big deal, but reviewers gave us a hard time… publishing privacy research is hell!

We confirmed in this paper that in one important respect, attitudes to the risk of privacy loss are similar to attitudes to the risk of monetary losses. Indeed, privacy risk seems to respect the independence axiom. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_of_irrelevant_alternatives

In our case, we show that knowing that you are already exposed to a privacy risk does not lead you to value privacy less. People do not lose interest in protecting their remaining privacy risk. Loss of control does not lead to abdication, unlike suggested by some.

This later finding is a “null” result, but it is an important one, and it would be great if it was replicated. If so, it would explain why people do not give up trying to maintain a private sphere even under constant State intrusion into their private lives.

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Farewell Lecture by Stephan Klasen

We had a great last lecture by Stephan Klasen, the driving force behind the establishment of development economics as the  main topic in the department of economics in Gottingen.

A very strong team of development economists has developed around him. It would take several pages to list all connected members but there is for example the Research Centre “Poverty, Equity and Growth in Developing Countries”, the Research Training Group “Globalization and Development” (GLAD), various chairs established at his instigation over the years, including the Chair of Behavioral Development Economics (Marcela Ibañez), at which I work, and people like Inmaculada Martínez-Zarzoso, Holger Strulik, Krisztina Kis-Katos, Sebastian Vollmer, etc, etc, etc, etc… This is not to mention all his international contacts and the various people he collaborates with outside Göttingen. This reminds me a bit of how Jean-Jacques Laffont and Jean Tirole established industrial organization at the University of Toulouse.

Sadly enough, his forces have been declining over several years due to a degenerative disease, and he has now to retire, way prematurely (he is only in his 50s!). Again, this is similar to how Jean-Jacques Laffont prematurely died of a cancer.

I really hope that his work and achievements will be maintained and even grown by the current and future team of development economists in Gottingen.

There were many hommages to his work and personality, including two funny presentations, one by Isabel Günther, about the 7 main lessons of working with Klasen (including, you just can’t compete with Klasen :)), and then another one by young researchers here, a pastiche of a development economic paper based on a survey of people related to him, grading econometrically how increasing closeness to Klasen affected his colleagues.

As for me, the main thing that impressed me from the testimony of others were his ability to be constructive, generous and not too critical in his relations with others, and also how he chose research areas in which he had faith and that were important. I will strive to get inspiration from this.

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EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCES ABOUT THE LIMITS OF NUDGES AS A TOOL FOR PUBLIC POLICY

A presentation for the oral part of my habilitation at the University of Jena. This is about the limits of nudge, in particular in obtaining sustainable changes in behaviour.

The whole idea of nudges is to insert some hurdles in the way of the (too) fast, automatic decision making. The goal is that people reflect a bit more and make more considered decisions.

The issue with this is whether people exposed to such nudges integrate them in their everyday decision-making. The ideal would be that they do not need to be nudged anymore to reach better decisions.

However, this would imply that people like nudges and actually want to be nudged. I outline research I did with Robert Sugden and Magdalena Kaczmarek to show that this may not be the case.

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2018 was quite a busy year.

2018 was quite a busy year.

The year started with a one-month research stay in March in Grenoble, where I worked with Paolo Crosetto at the GAEL, an INRA laboratory. We analyzed data from a recent experiment of ours about the dynamics of the attraction effect. I also took the opportunity to visit the GATE-CNRS laboratory at the University of Lyon, where I met Marie-Claire Villeval, and the GREDEG-CNRS laboratory at the Université of Nice Sophia Antipolis, where Dominique Torre invited me. I also taught a seminar on writing in the sciences, which was attended by PhD students at GAEL.

Shortly after my return, I started a new project with Ann-Kathryn Blankenberg and Paolo Crosetto about the impact of licensing terms on group work in innovative projects. For this, we let experimental participants play the Scrabble game under different licensing conditions. We were exceptionally fast in designing and running the experiment, which we did in October during a further one-week visit to Grenoble.

Quite a lot of time at the beginning of the year was devoted to organizing the 20th Annual Conference of the INFER association (http://infer2018.uni-goettingen.de), along with Inmaculada Martínez-Zarzoso and Stephan Müller at the University of Göttingen. I was mainly in charge of the submission and reviewing process, and the subsequent elaboration of the program. The conference took place in September and was really pleasant. Picture are here: http://infer2018.uni-goettingen.de/photos/ and the program here: http://infer2018.uni-goettingen.de/program/

In between all this we had a seminar visit by Robert Sugden in May, who presented his new book on The Community of Advantage, and why unstable and context-dependent preferences do not justify paternalistic interventions.

I managed to switch in July from the chair of microeconomics, chaired by Claudia Keser, to the chair of behavioral development economics, chaired by Marcela Ibanez Diaz. This was a very welcome switch from a personal and professional point of view. Development economics at the University of Göttingen is very dynamic, and I really admire the courage and resourcefulness of those PhD students and professors who do field research in developing countries.

At the same time, I was writing the introduction to my habilitation, which I submitted in July to the faculty of economics at the University of Jena. The written part was accepted in December, and I did my the oral examination this January. The topic of the presentation was how to foster trust in experts, a presentation I did in German, but for which there is also an English version. My habilitation was approved so I am now habilitated, which will help in finding professorships.

Vacations in July were very welcome, which I spent in Paris with a friend, the Ile de Ré, where my father resides, and Bagnères de Luchon in the Pyrénées, from which I hiked in the surrounding mountains.

At the end of the year, I went to the 2018 North American ESA conference in Antigua, Guatemala, where I participated in the workshop on the analysis of choice process data. This was my first trip to Central America, and this was very enjoyable and interesting. I was impressed by the intensity of the rain and by the volcanoes that surround the city.

I also wrote a research bid with Katharina Gangl, an economic psychologist at the Georg-Elias-Müller-Institut für Psychologie in Göttingen, with whom I work on the psychological impact of online feedback for service providers.

I finally took some vacation at the end of the year, doing a Sesshin (intensive meditation retreat) with my Zen group in Göttingen (https://www.lebendiges-zen.de/zendo-goettingen/). That was really quite tough, but a good alternative to the usual Christmas/New Year celebrations!

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The social preferences of democratic leaders

Together with Professor Claudia Keser, we report experimental results on the differences between the social preferences of democratic leaders and those of leaders who are chosen at random or meritocratically.

Gaudeul, A. and C. Keser (2017): The social preferences of democratic leaders and the conflict between wealth generation and distribution, CIRANO Working Papers 2017s-25, https://ideas.repec.org/p/cir/cirwor/2017s-25.html

We contribute to the debate about the best forms of government by showing the positive impact of using a democratic procedure to select decision makers. We compare democratic leaders with leaders who are chosen based only on their qualification for the role. We find that democratic leaders in our experiment are more concerned about efficiency and the welfare of others.

This research is very relevant nowadays because, unlike predicted by Francis Fukuyama, democracy appears to be on the retreat globally. Indeed, Ian Morris, in a short article for the IAST, predicts the end of democracy.

We think that it is therefore interesting to point out some behavioral consequences of the use of different types of leader selection procedures. Not all leaders are alike, and democratic leaders are particularly concerned about balancing efficiency and the welfare of others. Whether that is good or bad depends on whether we think that it is important to consider both of those aspects when making policy decisions…

Some interesting recent articles to put this research in context include:

Kurlantzick, J. (2013). One step forward, two steps back. Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/03/04/one-step-forward-two-steps-back

Morris, I. (2017). The end of democracy. What happened to the Greek ideal?
IAST Connect, 11, 14–15. https://fr.calameo.com/read/001942734ec94482949b6

Brooks, D. (2017). The Glory of Democracy, New York Times,
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/14/opinion/democracy-thomas-mann.html

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20th INFER Annual Conference (September 5 – 7, 2018) at the University of Göttingen

We are now circulating the Call for Papers for the 20th INFER Annual Conference (September 5 – 7, 2018) at the University of Göttingen.

This is a medium-size generalist conference with a long tradition, good reputation and great speakers!

The deadline for submissions is February 28, 2018.

More details at http://infer2018.uni-goettingen.de/call-for-paper/

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Vacations in the Pays Basque

After many years with no real vacations, I was reminded of that possibility by the human resource department at the University of Göttingen, and I therefore took a 3-week vacation to go to the Pays Basque (French Basque Country).

I spent the first 10 days in Bayonne, where my grandfather grew up alongside his brother who became a local politician. I kept busy trying to follow attractions in and around Bayonne, and still, there were a lot of things I did not have time to do. The area is very well networked with bus lines and there are bikes to borrow for free from the Tourism Office.

Bayonne-Centre_historique-20130811.jpg

There are many events going on the whole summer, like open air markets, choir singing and sport events. There are also many things to visit, like the Musée Basque in Bayonne, the Izadia Nature Park in Anglet, the beach in Biarritz, and the Arènes in Bayonne, where corridas take place.

I also used that time to prepare the next 10 days, which I spent hiking in the Pyrénées. I used to do this often during my PhD in Toulouse but I gave my previous hiking equipment away. I therefore had to get a lot of equipment anew, including a rucksack, a canteen, a camping stove, a compass, and a duffel bag.

Before leaving for 10 days out in the mountains, I did a little training walk from Bayonne to the Croix de Mouguerre, which commemorates the campaign of Soult against the invading troops of Wellington at the end of Napoléon’s empire in 1813-1814. This was a place my grandfather spoke about. He was a retired general when I knew him, doing archaeological digs into protohistorical defensive enclosures. He also researched the military history of the region, in particular the famous battle of Saint Pierre d’Irube, close to where he lived.

After final adjustments following this training walk, I took the train to Bidarray and started the GR10, which is a hiking path all though the Pyrénées from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. This was the middle of the day, hard work going up, indeed I stopped every hour for rest. This was very slow, I was definitely not at the top of my form! In the evening, I found a nice place close to a spring, next to the pass of Harrieta, where I slept in a small recess in a cliff.

In the morning, you could not see more than 10 meters ahead due to the fog, but the way was very well marked. I reached Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry in the evening, for a day of rest. On that day, I was lucky because a festival of Basque rural sports (Force Basque) was organized, which was very entertaining.

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Force Basque

The next day, I made my way towards St Jean Pied de Port, a relatively easy portion of the GR10. I slept under a cross in an open field above the city, which I then reached in the morning. I spent the day visiting the city and resting by the river, before making my way up on the way to the Harpéa, a cave that is also still used for herding.

I stopped on my way to sleep again under the stars on top of a hill, the wind was really strong during the night. I then made my way up to the sources of the Nive, a river that ends up in Bayonne. I spent the afternoon there, meeting a nice and interesting German lady, whom I redirected to some other better trails where to enjoy the surrounding mountains at her level of experience.

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The source of the Nive

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At the source of the Nive

I then went way up to the Harpéa, in which I had to take refuge during the night because of rain and thunder. Those were of really quite high intensity the whole night, indeed, people asked me the following days how it was up there that night because they also heard it and felt it down in the valleys. Funnily, a few pigs took refuge there also during the night, waking me up frightened. I hung my hammock to a barrier leading to the grotto in order to avoid sleeping on the floor at their level! I have my standards! :-)

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Going up to Harpéa

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Harpéa

In the morning, again very dense fog, but easy way following the road to the plateau of Azpegi. Early human inhabitants buried their dead in dolmens there (neolithic era), and later left their ashes in cromlechs. Those are still visible there, but really difficult to find when, as on that day, fog is impenetrable.

I reached an unattended refuge at Azpegui, which had a very good spring, which I used to wash much of my equipment. Weather was now sunny which allowed me to also dry it. At the refuge came a Spanish family from Saint James of Compostella, up there with their car, who took their dinner there and generously shared their cheese, bread and chorizo with me.

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The spring at Azpegui

In the evening, since the refuge had a fireplace, I decided to made a nice fire, but it turned out the fireplace did not draw well at all, and the whole refuge became very smoky! I had to open the door and the windows to get rid of that. The night was disturbed by a car travelling couple, who, despite the refuge being forbidden for car tourists, spent their night there. They certainly were not fit for it, and could not sleep well on the floor, waking me up several times with their noise as they constantly tried to find a comfortable position. I hope they will have learned a lesson from this bad night :-\ As for me, after a few nights outside, sleeping rough on the hard floor was not an issue. ;-)

In the next day, I went back down in France, in the opposite direction to the pilgrims of Saint James, who were going up in droves from Saint Jean Pied de Port, exhausted from what was for many of them the first stage on their walk. I let the bulk of them pass by, watching them go by at the pass of Ronceveaux, before then making my way down.

I made my own pilgrimage 20 years ago, so it was fun for me to make some part of the way in the opposite direction 20 years later. I had not had the opportunity to do so, because I did not use the Camino Frances to go back, I rather used the Camino del Norte along the coast, and then the Camino Aragonés to cross the border to France at the col du Somport.

Finally, after a too long day of walk, I arrived to the nice Gite Azkorria in St Jean Pied de Port, where the breakfast bread was really good. I spent two days there resting a bit, enjoying the city, going to watch pelotaris (players of Basque pelota), and getting some fresh food, fresh news and fresh books.

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Better stuck together or free to go? Why leaving should be hard.

New paper out at the Journal of Economic Psychology. Our topic is barriers to exit from collaborative work. This is research done with Paolo Crosetto and Gerhard Riener. We conclude that higher barriers are better.
Trump would approve!
 
Gaudeul, A., Crosetto, P., & Riener, G. (2017). Better stuck together or free to go? Of the stability of cooperation when individuals have outside options. Journal of Economic Psychology, 59, 99–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joep.2017.01.005
 
More seriously, the issue is whether people should be free to leave a joint project as they please, or if there should be costs in doing so.
 
The answer is that it is better to be in an environment that discourages exit. This is because people underestimate the benefits of collaboration. They are too pessimistic about the likelihood that other people in the project will stay.
They leave because they expect others to leave!
 
Our experiment is particularly interesting because outcome of the project is stochastic. There is no guarantee that a given effort will output a given return. That makes it particularly difficult to track the level of effort exerted by others. This is relevant for a wide range of collaborative projects, where many external factors can influence the outcome. You then cannot know why the success failed.
Perfect environment for people with a paranoid personality disorder!
 
I should say that this topic is under-researched and there are good opportunities to further this workOne could look at a stochastic prisonners’ dilemma, like in Compte & Postlewaite (2015)¹, and add the option to exit. This would allow to test their model of “plausible cooperation” in stochastic environments.
All this to say, there is work to do, everybody welcome!
 
¹ Compte, O., & Postlewaite, A. (2015). Plausible cooperation. Games and Economic Behavior, 91, 45–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geb.2015.03.010