The Infinitely Repeated Prisoner's Dilemma: A Field Experiment

April 1, 2022: I'm Now hiring an RA! For more info, see

Abstract: I infiltrate a small society, arrest every member, and force them to play prisoner’s dilemmas for the rest of their lives. While the experiment is still running (obviously), I have already discovered four novel conclusions: (1) demand effects are negative and time-dependent, as subjects go from threatening and attacking me to passively accepting the nature of their new reality; (2) as the theory predicts, cooperation can be sustained. However, that is just a result of the subjects’ beliefs that spending extra time in prison is better than the hellhole of this experiment; (3) subjects do not read their consent forms carefully enough; and (4) IRB is surprisingly lenient these days.

A number of news outlets have previously reported on my paper. I collected the headlines:

  • The New Fork Tines: "Research Suggests That Forcing Prison Inmates to Play Lab Games Every Day for the Rest of Their Lives Leads to Cooperation"

  • The Boston Glob: "Fascinating Study on Game Theory Begs the Question: Where Did All These Prisoners Come From?"

  • The Wail Street Journal: "Waaaaaahhhhh!"

  • The Boston Police Department: "Who Is Michael Thaler and How Did He Sneak into Suffolk County Prison to Run Daily Experiments on Inmates?"

  • The Washington Post But With A Pun In The Name: "Crime at All Time Low as Citizens Deterred at Prospect of Being in Never-Ending Lab Experiment"

  • The Boston Police Department: "If You Know the Whereabouts of Michael Thaler, Please Call the CrimeStoppers Tip Line"

  • HuffyPost: "You'll Never Guess Which Harvard Economist Violated the Geneva Conventions"

  • The Wail Street Journal: "Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!"

  • The Boston Police Department: "We Have Surrounded Littauer Basement and Are Waiting for the Notorious Criminal Michael Thaler to Come Out"

  • The Boston Police Department: "Thaler Immediately Surrenders; Says Prison Has Better Lighting Than Littauer"

Slides are available upon request.