The "game" of torture

Leonard Wantchekon, Andrew Healy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


The authors explain the prevalence of torture by modeling its institutional structure as a game of incomplete information involving the state, the torturer, and the victim. Once the state endorses torture as a mechanism for extracting information, its will is carried out with positive probability. This is because (a) even a "soft" and "sensitive" state agent might torture the victim to test his or her ability to resist and (b) a weak victim might hold out momentarily to find out whether the torturer is sensitive or "sadistic." When the state uses torture to intimidate political opposition, all types of torturers will behave sadistically. As a result, torture becomes more widespread and more cruel. The authors explain why a "culture" of individual resistance is the only effective solution to torture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)596-609
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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