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The Role of Theory in Field Experiments

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Author Info

  • David Card
  • Stefano DellaVigna
  • Ulrike Malmendier

Abstract

We classify all published field experiments in five top economics journals from 1975 to 2010 according to how closely the experimental design and analysis are linked to economic theory. We find that the vast majority of field experiments (68 percent) are Descriptive studies that lack any explicit model; 18 percent are Single Model studies that test a single model-based hypothesis; 6 percent are Competing Models studies that test competing model-based hypotheses; and 8 percent are Parameter Estimation studies that estimate structural parameters in a completely specified model. We also classify laboratory experiments published in these journals over the same period and find that economic theory has played a more central role in the laboratory than in the field. Finally, we discuss in detail three sets of field experiments—on gift exchange, on charitable giving, and on negative income tax—that illustrate both the benefits and the potential costs of a tighter link between experimental design and theoretical underpinnings.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.25.3.39
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 25 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 (Summer)
Pages: 39-62

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:25:y:2011:i:3:p:39-62

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.25.3.39
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  1. Matthew Rabin., 1992. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," Economics Working Papers 92-199, University of California at Berkeley.
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Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. An incrementalist view of Impact Evaluation and knowledge
    by Jed Friedman in Development Impact on 2012-05-02 13:27:23
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Cited by:
  1. Fink, Günther & McConnell, Margaret & Vollmer, Sebastian, 2011. "Testing for Heterogeneous Treatment Effects in Experimental Data: False Discovery Risks and Correction Procedures," Diskussionspapiere der Wirtschaftswissenschaftlichen Fakultät der Leibniz Universität Hannover dp-477, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät.
  2. Vojtech Bartos & Michal Bauer & Julie Chytilova & Filip Matejka, 2013. "Attention Discrimination: Theory and Field Experiments," CERGE-EI Working Papers wp499, The Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economic Institute, Prague.
  3. Axel Franzen & Sonja Pointner, 2013. "The external validity of giving in the dictator game," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 155-169, June.
  4. Michèle Belot (University of Edinburgh) and Jonathan James (University of Bath), 2013. "Partner Selection into Policy Relevant Field Experiments," ESE Discussion Papers 236, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.

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