Ted Lasso – Common Knowledge

Warning: this scene does contain explicit language

In this scene, Beard and Roy are trying to decide how to use their new star player in a match against a former coach from their team, who is familiar with their tactics and players. This creates a common knowledge problem because both Beard and Roy need to make a decision based on what they think the other person knows, what they think the other person thinks they know, and so on.

The problem is that neither Beard nor Roy can be certain about what Nate is thinking or planning, and this uncertainty can make it difficult to make the best decision for the team. In other words, they need to have common knowledge of each other’s intentions and strategies in order to make an informed decision. This common knowledge problem is an example of how information asymmetry can create challenges in decision-making.

The Longest Penalty Shot in the World – Common Knowledge

During the final local league soccer game, the starting goalkeeper is seriously injured and the backup (Fernando) must enter the game to face a final-minute penalty kick. Before the shot can be taken, the crowd storms the field and the referee decides to postpone the kick to one week later. The problem? Fernando has all week to think about where the shooter will kick.

In this scene, the team works through the penalty kick scenario. The options available to the kicker are common knowledge among the team. The team knows the kicker prefers to kick right, so the kicker may kick left instead. But the kicker knows that the team knows that and may kick right after all. The team gets frustrated because they soon realize there is a potentially infinite chain of reasoning about what everyone knows.

The Good Place – Trolley Problem

Chidi and Eleanor tackle a famous ethical dilemma, the trolley problem. The thought experiment is popular in philosophy and ethics courses, but the same experiment can be used in an economics context when discussing opportunity costs and costs. In a literal sense, whichever way the trolley goes will have a cost associated with it based on the people who will die. Depending on the structure of your course, you may also be able to look at the trolley problem from a game theory perspective.

Thanks to Jamie Wagner for the clip recommendation

Bullet Train –- Prisoner’s Dilemma

Bullet Train is an American action comedy that pits various killers against each other while riding a bullet train. In this scene, Lemon has tracked down two people (Prince and Kimura) and needs information. Instead of torturing the two of them, he opts instead to place them in a classic prisoner’s dilemma. He hopes that the two will be self-interested and reveal the outcome he desires.

Prince and Kimura are asked to close their eyes and either confess or rat the other person out. Lemon reminds them that cooperation (both raising hands or both pointing at each other) is likely a lie and he will kill them both. It’s a slight twist on the traditional prisoner’s dilemma played in classrooms, but it’s nice to see an application of interdependence and game theory in movies.

Thanks to Liam McDermott for the clip recommendation!

Star Trek TNG — Data Overanalyzes


Data is trying to formulate a battle plan for Commander Riker, but he’s assuming that Commander Riker is rational and knows that Data has analyzed his move. Data takes it a step further and hypothesizes that Commander Riker knows that Data knows that the commander has a battle plan. Full information is a tough assumption about rationality, but bounded rationality lets us assume that people have limitations but still respond to incentives in a predictable way. While perhaps a human failure, most of society does not operate on the same level as Data.

Thanks to Peter Nencka for the clip suggestion!

A League of Their Own


Dottie decides to quit right before the World Series, and her coach isn’t too happy about it. One of the most salient topics taught in a section on behavioral economics is the idea of ignoring sunk costs. When things get boring or tough, a rational agent may decide to quit. Dugan believes that baseball is a great separating equilibrium and that it shows who’s tough and who isn’t. If baseball were an easy game then the it wouldn’t be a beneficial signal to everyone watching.

Thanks to Jose Fernandez for the reference!

Prison Break — What is Game Theory?

In the re-boot of Prison Break, we look at how game theory impacts the decisions made by Michael Scofield. It starts with the idea that players in the game are focused on self-interest even when it comes at the expense of other players in the game. The setup is described as a one-shot game where players focus on themselves with no future implications.

Big Bang Theory — Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock

Sheldon isn’t a fan of traditional rock, paper, scissors so he introduces a new variant of the game with two more options, which increases the number of possible outcomes. The guys decide to use RPSLS to solve their disagreements, but they seem to struggle with the notion of needing to have mixed strategies. While Spock is not a dominant strategy in this game, the others don’t seem to comprehend ways to beat the throw.

For more Big Bang Theory clips, check out Bazinganomics!

BudLight — Rock, Paper, Scissors


Rock, paper, scissors is a good game to help settle a dispute, but this simultaneous move game has no clear advantage. It helps if you have an actual rock in your back pocket though.

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