Social Learning in a Social Hierarchy:
An Experimental Study.



Catherine C. Eckel
Department of Economics (0316)
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Rick K. Wilson
Department of Political Science
Rice University
Houston, TX




Social learning occurs in the context of a structure of social interaction among agents. Models of the social structure typically do not include hierarchical elements, such as status differences among agents. In this paper we report the results of experiments designed to examine learning in the presence of a commonly-observed, higher-status agent. We test strategy choice by subjects in a 3x3 coordination game with two equilibria. We find that the commonly-observed agent can influence the choice between two equilibria, one of which has a higher payoff but is risky, and the other of which has a lower payoff but lower risk. However, there are limits to this agent's influence. A commonly-observed agent cannot move subjects away from an equilibrium that dominates the other on all dimensions, and he cannot induce subjects to choose a strategy that does not lead to an equilibrium. We explore the implications of this research for understanding the influence of high-status members of society.