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Social Memory, Evidence,

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Social Memory, Evidence, and Conflict∗Luca Anderlini(Georgetown University)Dino Gerardi(Yale University)Roger Lagunoff(Georgetown University)June 2009Abstract. This paper examines an equilibrium model of social memory — asociety’s vicarious beliefs about its past. We show that incorrect social memory is a keyingredient in cre ating and perpetuating destructive conflicts.We analyze an infinite-horizon model in which two countries face off each period ina game of conflict characterized by the possibility of mutually des tructive “all out war”that yields catastrophic consequences for both sides. Each country is inhabited by adynastic sequence of individuals. Each individual cares about future individuals in thesame country, and can communicate with the next generation of their countrymen usingprivate messages. Social memory is based on these messages, and on physical evidence— a sequence of imperfectly informative public signals of past behavior. We find thatif the future is sufficiently important for all individuals, then regardless of the precisionof physical evidence from the past there is an equilibrium in which the two countriesengage in all out war with arbitrarily high frequency, an outcome that cannot arise inthe standard repeated game. In our construction, each new generation “repeats themistakes” of its predecessors, leading to an endless cycle of destructive b e havior.Surprisingly, we find that degrading the quality of information that individuals haveabout current decisions may “improve” social memory. This in turn ensures that arbi-trarily frequent all out wars cannot occur.JEL Classification: C72, C79, D80, D83, D89.Keywords: Social Memory, Private Communication, Dynastic Games, Physical Evidence.∗An older version of this paper circulated under the title: “Social Memory and Evidence from the Past.”The authors are grateful to Narayana Kocherlakota and three anonymous referees for their helpful commentsand suggestions, and to the National Science Foundation for financial s upport (Grant SES-0617789). We alsothank Helena Poon, Leeat Yariv, and seminar participants at Collegio Carlo Alberto [Turin], Georgetown,Penn, Princeton, Vanderbilt, and the CET Conference, the JPET Conference, and North American Econo-metric Society Meetings for the many helpful suggestions received on earlier drafts of the paper. All errorsare our own.Anderlini, Gerardi and Lagunoff 11. Introduction“In 1989, the Serbs commemorated their defeat at the hands of the Turks in theBattle of Blackbird Field, in 1389, and it formed the starting point for the Balkanswars of the 1990s.” — Baumeister and Hastings (1997).The “memories” that induced such a destructive war were obviously not direc t. Instead,they were shaped by oral or written accounts of history that were passed on through thegenerations. This paper develops a model in which destructive behavior can arise from thistype of indirect memory, which social scientists in various fields refer to as social memory.One commonly accepted definition, given by Crumley (2002), describes social memory as“the means by which information is transmitted among individuals and groups and from onegeneration to another. Not necessarily aware that they are doing so, individuals pass on theirbehaviors and attitudes to others in various contexts but especially through emotional andpractical ties and in relationships among generations [...]”The definition is obviously neutral about how social memory is used.1This paper developsa model that shows how social memory, specifically incorrect social memory in the face ofcontrary physical evidence, is instrumental in creating and perpetuating destructive conflict.Clearly, not all conflicts are universally destructive. Some yield clear winners and losers.Indeed, there is a long history of strategic models of war and conflict in this vein dating backat least to Schelling (1960). Some recent models, for instance Schwarz and Sonin (2007),Jackson and Morelli (2008), Chassang and i Miguel (2008), and Yared (2009), are rooted inthe theory of repeated and/or dynamic games. Others such as Fearon (1995) and Glaeser(2005) place conflict in a signalling context.2A typical characteristic of the literature is thatthere may be positive incentives for conflict in some states of the world by at least one socialstratum that stands to gain from what is an overall destructive conflict with another groupor society.Our interest in this paper, however, is in conflicts that are known to have no winners at all;conflicts that are so destructive that existing theories have trouble explaining them. Hence,1Fields in w hich social memory is commonly studied include anthropology, psychology, and distributedcognition. See, for instance, Cattell and Climo (2002), Connerton (1989), Crumley (2002), Fentress andWickham (1992), Pennebaker, Paez, and Rim`e (1997), Rogers (1997) and Sutton (2005).2Overall, the literature on war and conflict is immense and impossible to do justice here. However, seeYared (2009) for an excellent bibliography. In Section 5 we discuss those models of conflict that, like ours,have some element of intergenerational memory or communication.Social Memory 2standard repeated games are less useful for our purposes since they only sustain “moderatelybad” outcomes, i.e., outcomes above the stage game minmax payoff. In this sense, repeatedgame models of war afford each participant a modicum of self protection. Similarly, signallinggames are limited in that they require agents to assign large likelihood to objective states ofthe world in which the conflict is desirable from at least one country’s point of view. Yet insome conflicts, World War I being a case in point, decision makers are often aware at theoutset that the hostilities are extremely undesirable for all concerned. Foley (2005) makesthis argument plainly.Rather than dismissing these models, the present paper attempts to expand them in away that can accommo date a role for social memory in conflicts. We therefore posit a modelthat abstracts away from scenarios in which there are positive incentives for conflict.Consider a game faced by two nations each period in which all out conflict is catastrophi-cally bad for all involved in a way that everyone understands. For concreteness, we call thesenations F (France) and G (Germany). These countries are engaged in a repeated Game ofConflict. In a Game of Conflict, there are three types of


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