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Date and Location

October 13, 2022
4:00 PM - 5:15 PM EST




Conflict Management and Depolarization Seminar

Agent-Selection and Belief Polarization in Distributive Bargaining


Thursday, September 15, 2022

4:00-5:15 P.M.

Virtual Event

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Principals frequently bargain through agents, and field evidence suggests that such bargaining often ends in costly impasse. While a large literature has examined the potential misalignment of interests between principals and agents, the process that precedes such relationships has been neglected: the selection of an agent. In this paper, we examine agent-selection in bargaining and show that principals select overly aggressive agents to their own detriment. Across three preregistered experiments (combined n = 3,190), we find that the agents sent to the bargaining table by principals are more polarized in their views than are potential agents in general (Study 1), as well as the principals whom they represent (Study 2). Agent-selection increases the impasse rate and makes both parties worse off than if they were assigned an agent at random. Conditional on engaging in agent-selection, both parties could improve their respective outcome by unilaterally selecting a less aggressive agent. In an extension with repeated selection and information asymmetry, we show that these less-aggressive agents fail to persist in the market. Principals fail to account for an increasingly polarized agent pool and continue to select relatively aggressive agents (Study 3).


About the speaker:

David Hagmann is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.  His research draws on experimental tools from psychology and economics to study how people engage with information and how this affects the decisions they make. Across published papers and ongoing projects, his work documents a widespread desire to actively avoid information, even when this can have costly consequences and lead to worse decisions.


About the series:

The Harvard Kennedy School Seminar in Conflict Management and Depolarization showcases cutting edge research on topics related to interpersonal, intergroup, organizational, and political conflict. The seminar offers an opportunity for scholars from psychology, political science, economics, organizational behavior and related disciplines to share research results and discuss their scientific and practical implications.

Click here for a full overview of this series, including past and future speakers.

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Speakers and Presenters

​David Hagmann, Assistant Professor in the Department of Management at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology