HOW INDIVIDUALS LEARN TO TAKE TURNS: EMERGENCE OF ALTERNATING COOPERATION IN A CONGESTION GAME AND THE PRISONER'S DILEMMA
JANUSZ A. HOÅYST
In many social dilemmas, individuals tend to generate a situation with low payoffs instead of a system optimum ("tragedy of the commons"). Is the routing of traffic a similar problem? In order to address this question, we present experimental results on humans playing a route choice game in a computer laboratory, which allow one to study decision behavior in repeated games beyond the Prisoner's Dilemma. We will focus on whether individuals manage to find a cooperative and fair solution compatible with the system-optimal road usage. We find that individuals tend towards a user equilibrium with equal travel times in the beginning. However, after many iterations, they often establish a coherent oscillatory behavior, as taking turns performs better than applying pure or mixed strategies. The resulting behavior is fair and compatible with system-optimal road usage. In spite of the complex dynamics leading to coordinated oscillations, we have identified mathematical relationships quantifying the observed transition process. Our main experimental discoveries for 2- and 4-person games can be explained with a novel reinforcement learning model for an arbitrary number of persons, which is based on past experience and trial-and-error behavior. Gains in the average payoff seem to be an important driving force for the innovation of time-dependent response patterns, i.e. the evolution of more complex strategies. Our findings are relevant for decision support systems and routing in traffic or data networks.
Game theory, reinforcement learning, multi-agent simulation
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