Game theory and emotions

Steven J. Brams

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    To illustrate the rational-choice modeling of emotions, a game-theoretic model of frustration, in which players respond in anger to their lack of control, is developed. Of the 57 distinct 2X2 strict ordinal conflict games, 12 turn out to be 'frustration games', in four of which 'threat power', based on the theory of moves, offers relief to the frustrated player. Aristophanes' play, Lysistrata, in which the frustrated women induce the men to stop fighting by abstaining from sex, illustrates the exercise of this power. Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which Lady Macbeth, furious at her husband's vacillation, incites him to murder King Duncan, illustrates the choice of 'non-myopic equilibria' in six 'self-frustration games'. In both cases, the players, who start out at inferior states, move initially to still worse states, exploding in anger to effect better outcomes. Conditions are given for the rationality of such moves.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)91-124
    Number of pages34
    JournalRationality and Society
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 1997


    • Equilibrium
    • Frustration
    • Path analysis
    • Theory of moves
    • Threats

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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