The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


EPISODE # 270

Moshe Hoffman and Erez Yoeli on the Surprising Power of Game Theory to Explain Irrational Human Behavior

Hidden Games: The Surprising Power of Game Theory to Explain Irrational Human Behavior (book cover)

We like to think of ourselves as rational. This idea is the foundation for classical economic analysis of human behavior, including the awesome achievements of game theory. But as behavioral economics shows, most behavior doesn’t seem rational at all — which, unfortunately, casts doubt on game theory’s real-world credibility.

Shermer, Hoffman, and Yoeli discuss: the problems game theory was developed to solve • How rational or irrational an animal are we? • the evolutionary logic of game theory • Alan Fiske’s four relationships • kin selection, altruism and reciprocal altruism • deception and self-deception • costly signaling theory • pirate rationality • virtue signaling • Putin, Russia, and Ukraine • Israeli-Palestinian conflict • justice, self-help justice, norms and laws • chemical weapons/nuclear weapons taboos/norms • dueling: what problem did it solve? • beliefs: first-order vs. second-order.

In their book Hidden Games, and in this conversation, Moshe Hoffman and Erez Yoeli find a surprising middle ground between the hyperrationality of classical economics and the hyper-irrationality of behavioral economics. They call it hidden games. Reviving game theory, Hoffman and Yoeli use it to explain our most puzzling behavior, from the mechanics of Stockholm syndrome and internalized misogyny to why we help strangers and have a sense of fairness.

Moshe Hoffman is a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, a research fellow at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and a lecturer at Harvard’s department of economics. His research focuses on using game theory, models of learning and evolution, and experimental methods to decipher the motives that shape our social behavior, preferences, and ideologies. He lives in Lubeck, Germany.

Erez Yoeli is a research scientist at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the director of MIT’s Applied Cooperation Team (ACT), and a lecturer at Harvard’s department of economics. His research focuses on altruism: understanding how it works and how to promote it. Yoeli collaborates with governments, nonprofits, and companies to apply the lessons of this research towards addressing real-world challenges. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on May 10, 2022.

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