The reinforcement heuristic in normal form games

Carlos Alós-Ferrer, Alexander Ritschel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We analyze simple reinforcement-based behavioral rules in 3 × 3 games through choice data and response times. We argue that there is a large overlap between reinforcement-based heuristics (win-stay, lose-shift) and the more “rational” behavioral rule of myopic best reply. However, evidence from response times shows that choices in agreement with the common prescription of those rules are comparatively fast, and choices of the form “lose-shift” occur more frequently for larger differences with bygone payoffs. Both observations speak in favor of reinforcement processes as a cognitive shortcut for apparent myopic best reply, and advise caution when interpreting behavioral results in favor of optimizing behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)224-234
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Decision processes
  • Myopic best reply
  • Reinforcement
  • Response times

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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