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The World the Game theorists Made$
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Paul Erickson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226097039

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226097206.001.0001

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The Brain and the Bomb

The Brain and the Bomb

(p.163) Chapter Five The Brain and the Bomb
The World the Game theorists Made

Paul Erickson

University of Chicago Press

Game theory’s creators had suggested that the theory might serve as a positive, predictive depiction of human behavior, to be corroborated by experiment and experience. This was certainly how the first generation of postwar mathematicians approached the theory, inventing interesting games like the famed “Prisoner’s Dilemma” in order to “test” alternative game-theoretic solutions. Even so, they frequently found themselves carefully selecting their subjects and experimental setups to best produce the desired behavioral phenomena. But while mathematicians remained the most visible apostles of game theory through the 1950s, researchers in the human sciences increasingly began to encounter and appropriate the theory, often in conjunction with cross-disciplinary research programs like “behavioral science” and attempts to create a unified study of human behavior with support from RAND, the Office of Naval Research, and private philanthropies like the Ford Foundation. For these researchers, game theory was often interpreted less as a foundation for testable predictions, and more as an analytic technique permitting them to use observed behavior to shed light on the underlying attitudes, values, or cognitive processes of individuals and groups alike.

Keywords:   behavioral science, Ford Foundation, RAND Corporation, decision processes, learning theory, prisoner’s dilemma

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