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Network Formation and Disruption - An Experiment: Are equilibrium networks too complex?

A.E. Endres, S. Recker, B. Mir Djawadi, B. Hoyer, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization (2019), 157, pp. 708-734

Models on network formation have often been extended to include the potential of network disruption in recent years. Whereas the theoretical research on network formation under the threat of disruption has thus gained prominence, hardly any experimental research exists so far. In this paper, we therefore experimentally study the emergence of networks including the aspect of a known external threat by relating theoretical predictions by Dzuibiński and Goyal (2013) to actual observed behaviour. We deal with the question if subjects in the role of a strategic Designer are able to form safe networks for least costs while facing a strategic Adversary who is going to attack their networks. Varying the costs for protecting nodes, we designed and tested two treatments with different predictions for the equilibrium network and investigated whether one of the least cost equilibrium networks was more likely to be reached. Furthermore, the influence of the subjects’ farsightedness on their decision-making process was elicited and analysed. We find that while subjects are able to build safe networks in both treatments, equilibrium networks are only built in one of the two treatments. In the other treatment, predominantly safe networks are built but they are not for least costs. Additionally, we find that farsightedness –as measured in our experiment– has no influence on whether subjects are able to build safe or least cost equilibrium networks. Two robustness settings with a reduced external threat or more liberties to modify the initial networks qualitatively confirm our results. Overall, in this experiment observed behaviour is only partially in line with the theoretical predictions by Dzuibiński and Goyal (2013).

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