Aspiration and Survival in “Jeopardy!”

Elizabeth Boyle and Zur Shapira

Behavior in dynamic competitive situations requires decision makers to evaluate their own as well as their competitors’ positions. This paper uses data from a realistic competitive risk taking setting, Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions, to test whether individual players choose the strategic best response in making their betting decisions. The analyses show that the percentage of players choosing the strategic best response is very low, a rather surprising finding because the Tournament of Champions is contested by the very best and most experienced players of the Jeopardy game. We conjecture that performance aspiration and survival targets guide risk-taking behavior in competitive situations. Furthermore, in situations where decisions are made under pressure, contestants tend to focus on one target while ignoring alternative targets and the choices that are available to their competitors. This may lead them to select inferior competitive strategies.

September, 2003
Published in: 
(revised in DP #417)