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The Role of Theory in Field Experiments

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  • 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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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. 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. Stefano DellaVigna & John A. List & Ulrike Malmendier & Gautam Rao, 2014. "Voting to Tell Others," NBER Working Papers 19832, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Michèle Belot (University of Edinburgh) and Jonathan James (University of Bath), 2013. "Partner Selection into Policy Relevant Field Experiments," ESE Discussion Papers, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh 236, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  3. Fink, Günther & McConnell, Margaret & Vollmer, Sebastian, 2011. "Testing for Heterogeneous Treatment Effects in Experimental Data: False Discovery Risks and Correction Procedures," Hannover Economic Papers (HEP), Leibniz Universität Hannover, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät dp-477, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät.
  4. 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.
  5. Rodney J. Andrews & Trevon D. Logan & Michael J. Sinkey, 2012. "Identifying Confirmatory Bias in the Field: Evidence from a Poll of Experts," NBER Working Papers 18064, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. van der Klaauw, Bas, 2014. "From Micro Data to Causality: Forty Years of Empirical Labor Economics," IZA Discussion Papers 8047, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Axel Franzen & Sonja Pointner, 2013. "The external validity of giving in the dictator game," Experimental Economics, Springer, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 155-169, June.

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