A Conversational War of Attrition

We explore costly deliberation by two differentially informed and possibly biased jurors: A hawk Lones and a dove Moritz alternately insist on a verdict until one concedes.Debate assumes one of two genres, depending on bias: A juror, say Lones, is intransigent if he wishes to prevail and reach a conviction for any type of Moritz next to concede. In contrast, Lones is ambivalent if he wants the strongest conceding types of Moritz to push for acquittal. Both jurors are ambivalent with small bias or high delay costs. As Lones grows more hawkish, he argues more forcefully for convictions, mitigating wrongful acquittals. If dovish Moritz is intransigent, then he softens (strategic substitutes), leading to more wrongful convictions. Ambivalent debate is new, and yields a novel dynamic benefit of increased polarization. For if Moritz is ambivalent, then he toughens (strategic complements), and so, surprisingly, a more hawkish Lones leads to fewer wrongful acquittals and convictions. So more polarized but balanced debate can improve communication, unlike in static cheap talk.

We also show that patient and not too biased jurors vote against their posteriors near the end of the debate, optimally playing devil’s advocate.

We shed light on the adversarial legal system, peremptory challenges, and cloture rules.


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