Dissertation Abstracts

Cultural Decision Models. Parallel Games with Incomparable Pay-offs.

Author: Gheondea-Eladi, Alexandra , alexandra.gheondea@googlemail.com
Department: Faculty of Sociology and Social Work
University: University of Bucharest, Romania
Supervisor: Prof. univ. dr. Lazăr Vlăsceanu
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: decision-making , game theory , work-life ballance , ultimatum game
Areas of Research: Rational Choice , Theory , Family Research


This thesis addresses question of why sometimes people make sub-optimal decisions, in the sense of not maximizing their wealth. This question is apparently embedded only in a rational choice theory, but throughout time researchers have given it different answers from different disciplines and theoretical backgrounds. From the suggestion that people make sub-optimal decisions because their rationality is bounded to their cognitive abilities (Simon, 1965), researchers went on to suggest that sub-optimal decisions happen because people are committed to a task with long-term implications (Sen, 1977) and because they tend to be biased by the use of certain judgment heuristics which lead them to make systematic judgment errors (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979; 1981; 1982). Later on, scholars noticed that the actor's choice is sub-optimal to the observer and perfectly optimal for the actor (Tsebelis, 1988; 1990; Frisch, 2001). Another way to put this was that the observer and the actor sometimes disagree regarding which is the “correct” decision (Frisch, 2001). Coming from political science, in 1988 and then in 1990, Tsebelis explored this argument by proposing that the observer focuses only on one situation, while the actor tries to maximize the outcome of multiple situations, some developing in different “arenas” and others developing around the rules and institutions that govern each situation. My own contribution to this body of research proposes that actors make apparently sub-optimal decisions because they have to decide between categories of pay-offs which are not comparable. These categories of pay-offs generally come from multiple layers of parallel games. While in each singular game the pay-offs need to be comparable to account for the assumptions of rationality, the pay-offs from two different games need not always be comparable among them.

In the first part of this thesis the theoretical background and the proposed theory of parallel games (PGs) with incomparable pay-offs (IPs) are laid out. Secondly, an experimental study inquires into how profit in an ultimatum game experiment changes in the presence of PGs with incomparable pay-offs. The results showed that, for those faced with PGs with IPs, the overall final monetary profit from the PGs was significantly less than for those who were not faced with IPs. A study of how people reconcile rewarding parts of their life that they cannot choose from brings, in the third part, some insights upon the way a particular set of incomparable pay-offs is aggregated. This will be based on a qualitative inquiry into the work-family balance of couples or relatives who work at the same institution with their spouse or relative. The results of this research endeavour show that the work and family domains offer satisfactions which are sought for simultaneously and among which people prefer not to choose. It also brings arguments for a number of strategies employed when assembling together the different rewards resulted from these parts of life: segmentation, compensation and spill-over. The concluding part will link together the theoretical and the two empirical sections into a coherent theory of parallel games with incomparable pay-offs.