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Game Changer - the game theory podcast

Business & Economics Podcasts

In Game Changer, the podcast by TWS Partners, we want to share our enthusiasm and passion for game theory and its applications. We invite guests from business and academia to discuss how they use the power of game theory in their profession to make a difference – and to learn some fun anecdotes, useful facts and valuable insights along the way. Join us on this journey, and find out that game theory is much more than a topic for ivory tower discussions.




In Game Changer, the podcast by TWS Partners, we want to share our enthusiasm and passion for game theory and its applications. We invite guests from business and academia to discuss how they use the power of game theory in their profession to make a difference – and to learn some fun anecdotes, useful facts and valuable insights along the way. Join us on this journey, and find out that game theory is much more than a topic for ivory tower discussions.





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Us vs. Them: Experiments on group identity| with Yan Chen

In this episode, we engage with Yan Chen to unravel the underlying mechanisms of group identity and group discrimination. Yan discusses her research on ingroup favoritism. We learn how ingroup favoritism can occur even in assigned, artificial groups, and that people with a strong group identity even have a willingness to pay to shield themselves from outgroup information. Yan also provides insights into societal issues such as political polarisation and group-based conflicts. Yan Chen is the Daniel Kahneman Collegiate Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan and a Research Professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research. Her academic work combines theoretical and experimental research to examine market and mechanism design, as well as public economics, providing insights into the mechanics of human interaction in social settings.


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Game Theory Goes to School: Strategic Decisions in Young Minds | with Isabelle Brocas

In this episode, we explore the fascinating intersection of developmental psychology and economic theory through the lens of children's strategic decision-making abilities: Our discussion focuses on how the evolving capacities of children's brains influence their ability to engage in complex strategic thoughts. Our guest Isabelle Brocas shares the fascinating findings from long-term experimental studies she conducted with children from kindergarten to young adulthood. Isabelle Brocas is a Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California, where she co-directs both the Los Angeles Behavioral Economics Laboratory (LABEL) and the Theoretical Research in Neuroeconomic Decision-making (TREND) Institute. Her research primarily examines the decision-making processes in humans, with a focus on how young people make choices, the influences behind these decisions, and the cognitive limitations that may affect their rationality. For more on Isabelle's work, you can visit her personal homepage.


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Playing for a Better Society: Game Theory and Civic Responsibility | with Tore Ellingsen

In this episode, we delve into the complex world of fostering civic responsibility. Our guest Tore Ellingsen explains how the interplay of regulation, personal sacrifice, and culture can build socially responsible societies or organisations. The conversation is rooted in the perspectives offered in Tore’s recent book, "Institutional and Organizational Economics: A Behavioral Game Theory Introduction," where he uses insights from behavioural game theory, psychology, and sociology to understand the dynamics of human interactions in groups. Tore Ellingsen is Professor of Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics, holding the Ragnar Söderberg Chair in Economics. His research interests span institutional, organisational, and behavioural economics, focusing on understanding the factors that contribute to the success or failure of human groups. Through his work, Tore seeks to answer pivotal questions regarding human cooperation and organisational effectiveness, providing valuable insights for both academia and real-world applications. For more information on Tore’s current research, you can check out his homepage.


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To click or not to click: can we trust sponsored search results? | with Maarten Janssen

In this episode, our guest Maarten Janssen helps us to explore the field of consumer (online) search. We discuss why economists are particularly interested in this topic and explore the reliability and dynamics of sponsored search results, uncovering the nuances and implications of these prevalent online phenomena. The insights from Maarten’s research (which he conducted together with Thomas Jungbauer, Marcel Preuss and Cole Williams on one paper and with Eeva Mauring on another paper) shed light on the complex interplay between consumer behavior, search algorithms, and market dynamics. Maarten Janssen is Professor of Microeconomics at the University of Vienna. In addition to his role at the University, he is a fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research, a member of the Royal Holland Society of Sciences and Humanities, a research associate at the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW), and an academic affiliate at CEG Europe. Apart from consumer search, his research focusses on auctions and markets with asymmetric information. For more information about Maarten's work and to read his papers, visit his homepage here and check out his paper on sponsored search positions.


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Discouraging consumption of sin goods – taxes versus nudges | with Dmitry Taubinsky

In this episode, we explore with Dmitry Taubinsky economic approaches on regulating sin goods such as alcohol or sugary beverages. We discuss the classical approach of taxation and Dmitry compares the approach to nudging approaches. Our discussion leads us into many further economic details: From externalities and internalities, over the question who bears the tax burden to the price elasticity of demand. Dmitry explains to us, why these effects are relevant, how they relate to each other and how they also affect the optimal taxation. Dmitry Taubinsky is an associate professor of economics at UC Berkeley and a research associate at the NBER. His research interests include Behavioral Economics and Public Economics with a special focus on the intersection of both fields using a combination of theory, experiments, and surveys as methods for the analysis of his research questions. His papers referenced in the podcast on sin taxes and nudging can be found here and here.


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Hidden Games: Exploring the rationality of irrational choices | with Moshe Hoffman

In this episode, we explore the often misunderstood relationship between game theory and human behaviour. Our guest Moshe Hoffman challenges the conventional belief that game theory only applies to rational actors. As Moshe explains in his book “Hidden games” (co-authored with Erez Yoeli), even seemingly irrational behaviours and preferences can be explained through game theory. We dive into the concept of 'hidden games' and their influence on our daily actions and decisions, revealing the subtle complexities of human social behaviour. Moshe Hoffman is a lecturer at Harvard's Department of Economics and at Boston College as well as an independent scholar. His interdisciplinary research bridges game theory, models of learning and evolution, and experimental methods to unravel the underpinnings of social behaviour, preferences, and ideologies. For more information on Moshe Hoffman and his work, you can visit his homepage.


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Avoid sending mixed signals! – signalling in negotiations and beyond | with Uri Gneezy

In this episode we are talking to Uri Gneezy about his latest book publication “Mixed Signals – How Incentives Really Work”. He explains to us what mixed signals are and makes us aware that we encounter them far more frequently than one would expect. We deep dive into the topic in the context of negotiations where signaling plays a major role. Uri walks us through the different effects that are at play when the opening offer in a negotiation is communicated to the other party and makes clear why it should neither be too high nor too low. Uri Gneezy holds the Epstein/Atkinson Endowed Chair in Behavioral Economics at the University of California, San Diego's Rady School of Management. His research interests are at the intersection of economic theory and application and include topics such as incentives-based interventions to increase good habits and decrease bad ones, Pay-What-You-Want pricing, and the detrimental effects of small and large incentives. In addition to this he is author of the books “The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life” and “Mixed Signals – How Incentives Really Work” which was published in 2023.


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The Economist's Brain: Tracing Choices with Neuroeconomic Insights | with Juan D. Carrillo

In this episode, we explore together with our guest Juan D. Carrillo the confluence of economics and neuroscience in understanding human decision-making processes. We delve into how the combination of these two disciplines can illuminate the biological basis of decision making, with a particular focus on complex scenarios like multi-task decision making, self-control, and impulsivity. Juan shares insights from his papers, discussing the innovative approach of neuroeconomic theory and its real-world applications. Juan D. Carrillo is a Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California and a Research Fellow in the Industrial Organization and Public Policy programs at the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). His research spans Neuroeconomic Theory and Experimental Economics, blending insights from neuroscience and economics to understand decision-making processes. Additionally, Juan co-directs the Los Angeles Behavioral Economics Laboratory (LABEL), focusing on experimental research in economic decision-making and strategic interactions. You can find out more about his research on his homepage and read the papers that are discussed in this episode here and here.


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Feeding America – allocating food to food banks with innovative market mechanisms | with Canice Prendergast

In this episode, we discuss with Canice Prendergast how market design mechanisms can be applied in social services. Canice shares how he collaborated with Feeding America on optimally allocating about 300 million pounds of food per year to hundreds of food banks across the United States. They were developing a market-based allocation mechanism introducing an internal currency to bid for available food on a daily basis. Canice shares the process itself as well as many anecdotes on its development and introduction. Canice Prendergast is W. Allen Wallis Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He is an economist specialising in economic theory, labour economics, and organizational behaviour.


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Does opaque AI lead to a catastrophe? – a Game Theorist’s view | with Jeffrey Ely

In this episode, we discuss with Jeff Ely a topic that has gotten significant public attention last year with the introduction of Chat GPT and similar programmes: The role of AI. Jeff shares his research with Balazs Szentes on a natural selection model on AI. They set up a model to study the AI control problem in the context of decentralized economic production. The study illustrates the importance of AI transparency as already deviating from ‘perfect transparency’ leads to catastrophic consequences. In our discussion he shares all details of the model, and we also discuss potential consequences for future development of AI technology. Jeff Ely is the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Economics at Northwestern University. With interests ranging from pure game theory to behavioral economics, Jeff has made significant contributions to various facets of economics, including mechanism design and the evolution of preferences. You can find the paper titled “Natural Selection of Artificial Intelligence”, which he wrote together with Balazs Szentes, here.


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Split or Steal? Experiments on lies and self-deception | with Marta Serra-Garcia

In this episode, we explore with Marta Serra-Garcia the paradoxes of human behavior in the realms of self-deception and lie detection. Marta's research, rooted in behavioral and experimental economics, questions why lying persists in a society that values morality. We delve into her experiments that examine how people reconcile their self-image with material interests, the timing of incentive information in ethical decision-making, and the effectiveness of algorithms in detecting deception. Marta Serra-Garcia is an Associate Professor of Economics and Strategy at the UC San Diego Rady School of Management. Specializing in behavioral and experimental economics, her acclaimed work focuses on the dynamics of ethical decision-making and its influence on behaviors like lying and charitable giving. A prolific researcher, Marta's work has been published in esteemed journals, earning her a place among the 2020 Best 40 under 40 MBA Professors. You can find her paper on self-deception here and her paper on lie detection here.


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Fortune's Fairness: The Super-Rich's View on Inequality | with Alain Cohn

In this episode, our guest Alain Cohn helps us to understand the complex relationship between wealth and perceptions of fairness in society. We explore his innovative research methodology, which move beyond traditional surveys to more accurately reflect the nuances of economic behaviors. The conversation also highlights the differences in attitudes towards inequality among the wealthy, particularly contrasting those with inherited wealth and the newly affluent. Through Alain's studies, we gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play between wealth, fairness, and policy influence in today’s society. Alain Cohn is Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, focused on the social and psychological determinants of economic behaviors. His work has significantly contributed to our understanding of honesty, financial risk-taking, and the impact of wealth on fairness perceptions and redistribution policies. In the episode, we also briefly mention the ultimatum game and the dictator’s game. If you want to find out more about these games, you can also check out our episode on first offers in bargaining with Lionel Page.


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Union negotiators are Game Theorists – 2023 UAW strike and its outcomes | with Marc Robinson

In this episode, our guest Marc Robinson, strategy and risk management expert, shares details on the recent UAW strikes and negotiations. With his rich background in the automotive industry and his experience as an economist at General Motors in the past, Marc observed the recent negotiations from a Game Theorist perspective. He shares the key success factors for the UAW to complete the union negotiations in their favor ranging from historical developments to changes in the UAW’s strategic moves compared to past union negotiations. We also discuss the broader implications of these negotiations for the automotive industry, its supply chain, and future union negotiations. Marc Robinson works as an independent strategy and risk management consultant, following a career as an internal consultant and economist at General Motors. It was there that he first introduced game theoretic concepts and tools, applying them to a vast range of applications such as strategic product or investment decisions, or negotiations with partners, suppliers, and unions. He also taught at UCLA and Stanford and worked on the Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush. If you want to read more on the 2023 UAW strikes, you can check out Marc’s website, where he covered the topic extensively in several blog posts.


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(Nuclear) Deterrence as a Game Theoretic concept | with Frank Zagare

In this episode we are talking to Frank Zagare about deterrence. The term gained popularity in particular during the cold war to describe the role of nuclear weapons in Soviet-American relations and, in light of recent events, has surfaced again. Together with Frank we look at the concept from a Game Theoretic perspective and discuss the shortcomings of the classical way of modeling deterrence. Frank then walks us through his alternative theory, perfect deterrence theory. He explains to us how it differs from classical way of modeling and which insights it offers on the war in Ukraine. Frank Zagare is UB Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University at Buffalo and author of several books like ‘The Dynamics of Deterrence’ and ‘Game Theory, Diplomatic History and Security Studies’ among others.


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Would you return a lost wallet? – Economist’s perspective on honesty | with Michel Maréchal

In this episode we are talking to Michel Maréchal about honesty from an economist’s perspective. He shares with us two studies he has conducted on honesty: Firstly, we talk about a mega-study in which Michel and his colleagues have tested in more than 300 cities around the globe with more than 17000 wallets whether people would rather return lost wallets if there were a higher or lower amount of money in them. Secondly, he shares a lab experiment in which he studied whether humans are more honest when interacting with other humans versus interacting with machines. Both studies give an understanding on human’s behaviour when being incentivized to being dishonest. Michel Maréchal is a Visiting Professor of Economics at the Rady School of Management, UC San Diego and Professor of Economics at the Department of Economics from the University of Zürich. His research is interdisciplinary and lies at the intersections of economics, social psychology, criminology, political science and biology. Here you can find Michel’s papers on civic honesty and honesty in the digital age. You can also check out his website for other research topics he is currently working on.


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In plain sight - why simplicity should be considered in game theoretic concepts | with Shengwu Li

In this episode we are talking to Shengwu Li about simplicity in game theoretic concepts. He explains to us, what simple means in this context, how this notion facilitates application of game theory to the "real world" and what an obviously dominant strategy is. We discuss how this understanding of game theory can be particularly helpful when conducting auctions and what practitioners need to know beyond that to harness game theory's predictive powers. Shengwu Li is Associate Professor of Economics at Harvard University. His research is focused on Microeconomic Theory, Market Design and Behavioral Economics.


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Picking up speed - how companies can make headway in reaching CO2 targets | with Daniel Helmig

For many companies reaching their self-imposed CO2 targets has become quite a tall order. While procurement has tried to rise to the occasion progress is often slow. In this episode we are talking to Daniel Helmig who explains to us how companies can get unstuck and move forward in reaching their CO2 targets. We discuss what the past can teach us about possible solutions, which three important questions CEOs and other leaders should answer for an honest assessment of their situation and what gradual progress for companies could look like in the future. Daniel Helmig is founder and Managing Director of the Helmig Advisory, which supports organizations in uncovering hidden potential in their supply chain, procurement, or operations area. Prior to this he held positions such as Corporate Transformation Leader, Group Head of Operations & Quality, Chief Procurement Officer, Senior Vice President, and Managing Director in five different industries.


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Cracking the Code: Incentivising teams in non-routine tasks | with Florian Englmaier

In this episode, our guest Florian Englmaier explores the effectiveness of monetary incentives in driving team efficiency and innovation. He shares insights from an experimental study conducted in an escape room setting, uncovering surprising findings about the impact of incentives on non-routine tasks and the emergence of leadership dynamics within teams. Florian Englmaier is professor of organisational economics at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, Germany. His main research interests lie in the fields of the economics of organisations and human resources, where he focuses on agency problems in organisations. You can find the papers on his studies conducted in the escape room setting here and here.


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Learning from a negotiation expert - the role of ‘tactical empathy’ | with Chris Voss

In this episode we are talking to Chris Voss. He is a former FBI hostage negotiator and has written a bestselling book “Never split the difference”. We discuss with him, what we can learn from hostage negotiations about negotiations in other settings, especially in the business context. Chris shares his approaches to negotiations and compares the importance of “tactical empathy” with Game Theoretic approaches. He also gives concrete and tangible proposals on how the listeners can improve their negotiation skills. Chris Voss is a former FBI lead hostage negotiator, and founder and CEO of The Black Swan Group, a company focused on negotiation skills trainings. He is author of the bestselling book "Never Split the Difference".


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Let’s go to the movies! – Game Theory in films | with Santiago Sanchez-Pages

In today’s episode, we discuss Game Theory in movies. Santiago shares in which movies the prisoner’s dilemma, the chicken game and other concepts are portrayed. The discussion brings us to many known movies, amongst them ‘The dark knight’, ‘A Beautiful Mind’, and many others. Below we have listed a list of links of the movie clips we discuss in this episode. Santiago also shares in the discussion which of them were successful in portraying Game Theory and which ones could have done a better job. Santiago Sanchez-Pages is a Reader in Economics in the Department of Political Economy. His background is in economic theory, including bargaining, game theory and political economy, but one of his main research fields is also experimental economics. He has written a book on Economics in movies titled “The Representation of Economics in Cinema. Scarcity, Greed and Utopia”. L.A. Confidential (Prisoner's dilemma): L.A. Confidential (3/10) Movie CLIP - The Interrogation (1997) HDThe Dark Knight (Prisoner's dilemma): Social experiment || Dark knightRebel without a cause (chicken run): The Chicken Run: Rebel Without A Cause (1955)Footloose (Chicken run): Holding Out for a Hero Bonnie Tyler FootlooseA Beautiful Mind (Nash equilibrium – or lack thereof): A Beautiful Mind - Bar Scene John Nash's Equilibrium Game Theory [1080p english full scene]Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Commitment): Doctor Strangelove - Doomsday Machine