Arthur Robson's Home Page


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Sundry Data

Office Address:
Professor Arthur J. Robson
University Professor
Department of Economics
Simon Fraser University

8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia

Phone: (778) 782-4669
Fax: (778) 782-5944
E-mail: robson at sfu dot ca

Complete cv:  A pdf file chock-a-block with full detail

Research Interests

I have been persuaded for about 20 years by the idea that a strong light can be shed on modern human economic behavior by considering its biological and anthropological basis. I wanted to otherwise stick to the usual theoretical methodology in carrying out this program. Research on this topic definitely wasn't short-run career optimizing, but it has been, and still is, tremendous fun to do something new.  It is also encouraging that recently there has been an increase in acceptance of this approach from the discipline at large.

There is a vast amount of ground-breaking work to be done in this vein, with the promise of generating powerful insights into basic real phenomena.  The following are two public lectures on the evolution of preferences-

The Evolution of Utility

Oxford, June 24, 2011

The Evolution of Time Preference

Oxford, June 16, 2011

The most complete treatment is  The Evolutionary Foundations of Preferences" (with Larry Samuelson) in Handbook of Social Economics. This is also the most formal of these sources, but we worked on the intuition throughout.

Also of interest might still be two recent workshops on these issues-.

Workshop on the Biological Basis of Economics

SFU, Vancouver, April 18-20, 2008

Workshop on the Biological Basis of Behavioral Economics

SFU, Vancouver, May 14-16, 2010  

 And here is the program for a conference at the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago. This link features pdf's and videos for many of the talks-

The Biological Basis of Economic Preferences and Behavior

Chicago, May 4-5, 2012

I am very grateful to the BFI for sponsoring this. The fourth workshop in this series was---

The Biological Basis of Preferences and Strategic Behavior

Vancouver, May 15-17, 2015

The fifth and latest workshop, with a substantial neuroeconomics theme, was held recently at SFU---

Neuroeconomics and the Evolution of Economic Behavior

Vancouver, My 4-6, 2018

Finally, here are the slides for a mini-course on this topic that I gave at New York University in February, 2013. An earlier version of this course was given at the Toulouse School of Economics in January, 2013.

Lecture 1, Lecture 2, Lecture 3, Lecture 4

              Published and Forthcoming Papers Since 1990

All of my papers on topics related to the biological basis of economics are included in the list below, with other papers on topics such as game theory.  Many of the forthcoming papers and working papers are available as PDF files.  Most of the later published papers below have abstracts available.

  1. "On the Uniqueness of Endogenous Strategic Timing,'' Canadian Journal of Economics 22 (1990), 917-921.
  2. "Stackelberg and Marshall," American Economic Review 80 (1990), 69-82.
  3. "Duopoly with Endogenous Strategic Timing: Stackelberg Regained," International Economic Review 31 (1990), 263-274.
  4. "Efficiency in Evolutionary Games: Darwin, Nash and the Secret Handshake", Journal of Theoretical Biology 144 (1990), 379-396.
  5. "Subgame Perfect Equilibrium in Continuous Games of Perfect Information: An Elementary Approach to Existence and to Approximation by Discrete Games" (with Martin Hellwig, Wolfgang Leininger and Phil Reny), Journal of Economic Theory 52 (1990), 406-422.
  6. "An Introduction to Evolutionary Game Theory: Secret Handshakes, Sucker Punches and Efficiency", in Recent Developments in Game Theory, ed. by J. Creedy, J. Borland and J. Eichberger, 1992, Edward Elgar: Aldershot, England
  7. "Status, the Distribution of Wealth, Private and Social Attitudes to Risk", Econometrica 60 (1992), 837-857.
  8. "An 'Informationally Robust Equilibrium' for Two-Person Nonzero Sum Games,'' Games and Economic Behavior 7 (1994), 233-245.
  9. "The Evolution of Strategic Behavior", Canadian Journal of Economics 28 (1995), 17-41.
  10. "The Existence of Subgame-Perfect Equilibrium in Continuous Games with Almost Perfect Information: A Case for Public Randomization,'' (with Chris Harris and Phil Reny), Econometrica 63 (1995), 507-544.
  11. "The Evolution of Attitudes to Risk: Lottery Tickets and Relative Wealth", Games and Economic Behavior 14 (1996), 190-207.
  12. "A Biological Basis for Expected and Non-Expected Utility", Journal of Economic Theory 68 (1996), 397-424.
  13. "Efficient Equilibrium Selection in Evolutionary Games with Random Matching", (with Fernando Vega-Redondo), Journal of Economic Theory 70 (1996), 65-92.
  14. "The Growth-Maximizing Distribution of Income", (with Myrna Wooders), International Economic Review, 38 (1997), 511-526.
  15. "Naive Adaptive Behavior and the Observability of Gambles", Games and Economic Behavior 24 (1998), 97-108.
  16. "Forward Induction, Public Randomization and Admissibility" (with Srihari Govindan), Journal of Economic Theory 82 (1998), 451-457.
  17. "Risky Business: Sexual and Asexual Reproduction in Variable Environments" (with Carl Bergstrom and Jonathan Pritchard), Journal of Theoretical Biology 197 (1999), 541-556.
  18. "The Biological Basis of Economic Behavior,'' Journal of Economic Literature, 29 (2001), 11-33.
  19. "Why Would Nature Give Individuals Utility Functions?" Journal of Political Economy, 109 (2001), 900-914.
  20. "Evolution and Human Nature," Journal of Economic Perspectives 16 (2002), 89-106(Also "Comments" Journal of Economic Perspectives 17 (2003), 207-212.)
  21. "The Emergence of Humans: The Coevolution of Intelligence and Longevity with Intergenerational Transfers,'' (with Hillard Kaplan) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 99 (2002), 10221-10226.
  22. "Existence of Subgame Perfect Equilibrium with Public Randomization: A Short Proof,'' (with Phil Reny), Economics Bulletin Vol. 3, No. 24 (2002), 1-8.
  23. "The Evolution of Human Longevity and Intelligence in Hunter-Gatherer Economies," (with Hillard Kaplan) American Economic Review 93 (2003), 150-169.
  24. "The Evolution of Intelligence and the Red Queen," Journal of Economic Theory 111 (2003), 1-22.
  25. "Imitation, Group Selection and Cooperation'' (with Philippe Gregoire) International Game Theory Review 5 (2003), 229-248.
  26. "Embodied Capital and the Evolutionary Economics of the Human Lifespan'' (with Hillard Kaplan and Jane Lancaster) Population and Development Review 29 Supplement (2003), 152-182.
  27. "A Short Proof of the Harsanyi Purification Theorem," (with Phil Reny and Hari Govindan), Games and Economic Behavior (special issue in memory of Bob Rosenthal), 45 (2003), 369-374.
  28. "Reinterpreting Mixed Strategy Equilibria: A Unification of the Classical and Bayesian Views,'' (with Phil Reny) Games and Economic Behavior 48 (2004), 355-384.
  29. "Complex Evolutionary Systems and the Red Queen", Economic Journal Symposium "Markets as Complex Adaptive Systems," 115 (2005) F211-F224.
  30. "Viewpoint: The Economics of Hunter-Gatherer Societies and the Evolution of Human Characteristics," (with Hillard Kaplan), Canadian Journal of Economics, 39 (2006), 375-398.
  31. "Why Do We Die? Economics, Biology, and Aging," (with Hillard Kaplan) American Economic Review P&P  97 (2007), 492-495.  (See also supplementary online material.)
  32. "The Evolution of Intertemporal Preferences" (with Larry Samuelson), American Economic Review P&P  97 (2007), 496-500.
  33. "The Effect of Food Intake on Longevity" (with Tieman Woutersen) Economics Bulletin 26 (2007), 1-11.
  34. "The Evolution of Diet, Brain and Life History among Primates and Humans" (with Hillard Kaplan, Steven Gangestad, Jane Lancaster, and Michael Gurven) In Guts, Brains, Food and the Social Life of Early Hominids. Leiden: University of Leiden Press, 2007, pp. 47-90.
  35. "Group Selection" The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, Second Edition, Palgrave, Macmillan (2008).
  36. "Evolution of Time Preference by Natural Selection: Comment'' (with Balázs Szentes) American Economic Review 98 (2008), 1178-1188. (See also online material "An Extended Example".)
  37. "Individual Decision Making and the Evolutionary Roots of Institutions" (with Richard McElreath, Robert Boyd, Gerd Gigerenzer, Andreas Glöckner, Peter Hammerstein, Robert Kurzban, Stefan Magen, Peter J. Richerson, and Jeffrey R. Stevens) In Better Than Conscious? Decision Making, the Human Mind, and Implications For Institutions Edited by Christoph Engel and Wolf Singer, MIT Press, 2008, pp. 325-342.
  38. "We Age Because We Grow" (with Hillard Kaplan)  Proceedings of the Royal Society: Series B: Biological Sciences, 2009, 1837-1844 (with Mathematical Appendix).
  39. "The Evolution of Time Preference with Aggregate Uncertainty" (with Larry Samuelson) American Economic Review,  99 (2009), 1925–53.
  40. "A Bioeconomic View of the Neolithic Transition to Agriculture" Canadian Journal of Economics, 43 (2010), 280-300.
  41. "The Evolutionary Foundations of Preferences" (with Larry Samuelson) In Handbook of Social Economics (2011) Edited by Alberto Bisin and Matt Jackson, North-Holland, pp. 221-310.
  42. "The Evolutionary Optimality of Decision and Experienced Utility" (with Larry Samuelson) Theoretical Economics 6 (2011), 311-339.
  43. "Status, Intertemporal Choice, and Risk-Taking" (with Debraj Ray) Econometrica 80 (2012) 1505-1531 (with online Appendix).
  44. "The Economic Approach to Theory of Mind" (with Nikolaus Robalino) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Series B (2012) 367 1599 2224-2233.
  45. "The Evolutionary Basis of Time Preference: Intergenerational Transfers and Sex" (with Balázs Szentes and Emil Iantchev) American Economic Journal: Microeconomics 4(4) (2012) 172-201.
  46. "Genes, Culture, and Preferences" (with Nikolaus Robalino) Biological Theory (2013) 8, 151-57.
  47. "A Biological Theory of Public Discounting" (with Balázs Szentes) American Economic Review (2014) 104: 3481-97.
  48. "The Evolution of Strategic Sophistication" (with Nikolaus Robalino) American Economic Review (2016) 106: 1046-72 (with online Appendix).
  49. "Why Sex? and Why Only in Pairs?" (with Motty Perry and Phil Reny) Economic Journal (2017) 127: 2730-2743.
  50. "Group Selection: A Review Essay on 'Does Altruism Exist?'" by David Sloan Wilson Journal of Economic Literature (2017) 55: 1570-1582.
  51. "Applying `Theory of Mind': Theory and Experiments" (with Erik Kimbrough and Nikolaus Robalino) Games and Economic Behavior (2017) 106: 209-226.
  52. "Certified Random: A New Order for Coauthorship" (with Debraj Ray) American Economic Review (2018) 108: 489-520.

 Recent Working Papers/Work in Progress

  1. "Adaptive Hedonic Utility" (with Lorne Whitehead).
  2. "Evolved Attitudes to Idiosyncratic and Aggregate Risk in Age-Structured Populations"(with Larry Samuelson)
  3. "Biology and the Arguments of Utility" (with Luis Rayo).
  4. "Genes and Culture".

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