The Price is Right—giving youself a little bit extra

Logo of the television game show “The Price is Right”

Logo of the television game show “The Price is Right”

Some years ago, Daniel Reidpath and I wrote a paper on the optimal strategy for players in the television game show, “The Price is Right”. We didn’t publish the paper and its been sitting in a drawer for over a decade but I started to think about it again while reading “Freakonomics”, the book by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. “Freakonomics” describes several games with economic consequences and I was reminded of two particular features of game shows that make them close to ideal as research settings for the behavioural economist or social scientist. First, they frequently involve large sums of money—far greater than one could ever offer a participant in a laboratory study. Second, they are constrained both by time and by formal rules in a way that most worldly decisions are not.

The advantage of the first feature—big money—is that you’d expect people to be more engaged with the TV game than they would with a university laboratory game that pays peanuts. The advantage of the second feature—constraint—is that it is easier for the researcher to figure out what is going on that it is with decisions like buying a house or car. It is also easier to determine objectively whether, and by how much and in what ways, the participants’ behaviour deviates from the optimum. With those thoughts in mind, I decided to resurrect the paper and to make it available here.

Contributors: Daniel D. Reidpath, Mark R. Diamond