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Thomas R. Palfrey, III

Flintridge Foundation Professor of Economics and Political Science
Thomas (Tom) Palfrey
Contact information for Thomas R. Palfrey, III
Contact Method Value
Mail Code: MC 228-77
Administrative Assistant:
B.A., University of Michigan, 1975; M.A., 1976; Ph.D., Caltech, 1981. Professor, 1986-2002; Flintridge Foundation Professor, 2003-05; 2006-. Executive Officer for the Social Sciences, 2001-02.

Research Interests

Formal Political Theory; Game Theory; Experimental Economics; Experimental Political Science; Political Economy; Mechanism Design


Economic Theory; Experimental Social Science; Political Science; Political Economy


Thomas Palfrey's research spans a range of topics in game theory and its applications to economics, political science, and political economy. His focus is on understanding how people devise strategies when they have incomplete information. He has applied his analysis to study elections, committee decision making, auctions, bargaining, public finance, and mechanism design.

In one of his more noteworthy contributions, he and Richard McKelvey used observations from experiments to develop a general theory of strategic behavior that incorporates human error, called quantal response equilibrium, which has been applied to study a broad range of political and economic behavior.

He has founded or cofounded several social science laboratories, including the Social Science Experimental Laboratory (SSEL) at Caltech, the California Social Science Experimental Laboratory (CASSEL) at UCLA, and the Princeton Laboratory for Experimental Social Science (PLESS). He is currently the director of SSEL. Research in SSEL is focused on experimental economics, finance, decision making, and political science. Researchers conduct experiments on game theory, market and auction design, voting, network formation, and other social phenomena.

He has held numerous editorial board positions for leading journals in economics and is currently an editor of Games and Economic Behavior. Palfrey was a professor of political economy at Carnegie Mellon prior to joining the Caltech faculty in 1986, and he was a professor of politics and economics at Princeton University from 2004 to 2006. He has held numerous other visiting positions at UCLA, New York University, Columbia University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Universitat Autonoma in Barcelona, and several institutions in France, including the Chaire d'Excellence Pierre de Fermat at the University of Toulouse in 2005–2006. Since 2013, he has been a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and he is an international fellow at the ESEI Center for Market Design in Zurich. He has also been on the scientific council of the Institute for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences in Toulouse, France, since 2010. He was named a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1986–1987), a fellow of the Econometric Society (1995), a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2008), and an Economic Theory Fellow of the Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (2011).

Selected Publications

The Dynamic Free Riding with Irreversible Investments. (with M. Battaglini and S. Nunnari), American Economic Review, forthcoming. Appendix

Vote Trading With and Without Party Leaders (with A. Casella and S. Turban) Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming. 

Turnout and Power Sharing  (with H. Herrera and M. Morelli). Economic Journal, forthcoming.

Experiments in Political Economy , in The Handbook of Experimental Economics, Vol. II (Kagel and Roth, eds.), forthcoming.

Candidate Entry and Political Polarization: An Anti-Median Voter Theorem (with J. Grosser) American Journal of Political Science, 2014. Appendix

Legislative Bargaining and the Dynamics of Public Investment  (with M. Battaglini and S. Nunnari), American Political Science Review, 2012. Appendix

Competitive Equilibrium in Markets for Votes (with A. Casella and A. Llorente-Saguer), Journal of Political Economy, 2012.

Speculative Overpricing in Asset Markets with Information Flows (with S. Wang) Econometrica, 2012.