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The Emotional Moves of a Rational Actor: Smiles, Scowls, and Other Credible Messages

Department of Psychiatry, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA 02478, USA
Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Roman Sheremeta and Eric Schniter
Games 2017, 8(2), 18;
Received: 21 January 2017 / Revised: 23 March 2017 / Accepted: 28 March 2017 / Published: 31 March 2017
PDF [595 KB, uploaded 6 April 2017]


Many scholars turn to emotions to understand irrational behavior. We do the opposite: we turn to rationality and game theory to understand people’s emotions. We discuss a striking theory of emotions that began with the game theory of credible threats and promises, then was enriched by evolutionary biology and psychology, and now is being tested in psychological experiments. We review some of these experiments which use economic games to set up strategic situations with real payoffs. The experiments test whether a player’s emotional expressions lend credibility to promises, threats, and claims of danger or hardship. The results offer insights into the hidden strategies behind a warm smile, an angry scowl, a look of terror, and eyes of despair. View Full-Text
Keywords: emotion; game theory; facial expression; commitment; signaling emotion; game theory; facial expression; commitment; signaling

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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Reed, L.I.; DeScioli, P. The Emotional Moves of a Rational Actor: Smiles, Scowls, and Other Credible Messages. Games 2017, 8, 18.

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