The Doors of Perception

Gary Charness, University of California, Santa Barbara
Alessandro Sontuoso, Chapman University

ESI Working Paper 19-32


We investigate how a player’s strategic behavior is affected by the set of notions she uses in thinking about the game, i.e., the “frame”. To do so, we consider matching games where two players are presented with a set of objects, from which each player must privately choose one (with the goal of matching the counterpart’s choice). We propose a novel theory positing that different player types are aware of different attributes of the strategy options, hence different frames; we then rationalize why differences in players’ frames may lead to differences in choice behavior. Unlike previous theories of framing, our model features an epistemic structure allowing for the case in which an individual learns new frames, given some initial unawareness (of the fact that her perception of attributes may be incomplete). To test our model, we introduce an experimental design in which we bring about different frames by manipulating subjects’ awareness of various attributes. The experimental results provide strong support for our theory.