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Did we Overestimate the Role of Social Preferences? The Case of Self-Selected Student Samples

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  • Armin Falk
  • Stephan Meier
  • Christian Zehnder

Abstract

Social preference research has fundamentally changed the way economists think about many important economic and social phenomena. However, the empirical foundation of social preferences is largely based on laboratory experiments with self-selected students as participants. This is potentially problematic as students participating in experiments may behave systematically different than non-participating students or non-students. In this paper we empirically investigate whether laboratory experiments with student samples misrepresent the importance of social preferences. Our first study shows that students who exhibit stronger prosocial inclinations in an unrelated field donation are not more likely to participate in experiments. This suggests that self-selection of more prosocial students into experiments is not a major issue. Our second study compares behavior of students and the general population in a trust experiment. We find very similar behavioral patterns for the two groups. If anything, the level of reciprocation seems higher among non-students implying an even greater importance of social preferences than assumed from student samples.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by CESifo Group Munich in its series CESifo Working Paper Series with number 3177.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_3177

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Keywords: methodology; selection; experiments; prosocial behavior;

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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Cubitt, Robin P. & Drouvelis, Michalis & Gächter, Simon & Kabalin, Ruslan, 2011. "Moral judgments in social dilemmas: How bad is free riding?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(3-4), pages 253-264, April.
  2. Griffin, John & Nickerson, David & Wozniak, Abigail, 2012. "Racial differences in inequality aversion: Evidence from real world respondents in the ultimatum game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 84(2), pages 600-617.
  3. Slonim, Robert & Wang, Carmen & Garbarino, Ellen & Merrett, Danielle, 2012. "Opting-In: Participation Biases in the Lab," IZA Discussion Papers 6865, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Alexander W. Cappelen & Knut Nygaard & Erik Ø. Sørensen & Bertil Tungodden, 2011. "Social Preferences in the Lab: A Comparison of Students and a Representative Population," CESifo Working Paper Series 3511, CESifo Group Munich.
  5. Blair Cleave & Nikos Nikiforakis & Robert Slonim, 2013. "Is there selection bias in laboratory experiments? The case of social and risk preferences," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 372-382, September.
  6. Heike Hennig-Schmidt & Reinhard Selten & Daniel Wiesen, 2009. "How Payment Systems Affect Physicians´ Provision Behaviour – An Experimental Investigation," Bonn Econ Discussion Papers bgse29_2009, University of Bonn, Germany.
  7. L. Becchetti & V. Pelligra, 2011. "Don’t Be Ashamed to Say You Didn’t Get Much: Redistributive Effects of Information Disclosure in Donations and Inequity-Aversion in Charitable Giving," Working Paper CRENoS 201111, Centre for North South Economic Research, University of Cagliari and Sassari, Sardinia.
  8. Stoop, Jan, 2012. "From the lab to the field: envelopes, dictators and manners," MPRA Paper 37048, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  9. Samuel Bowles & Sandra Polania-Reyes, 2011. "Economic incentives and social preferences: substitutes or complements?," Department of Economics University of Siena 617, Department of Economics, University of Siena.
  10. Pelligra, Vittorio & Stanca, Luca, 2013. "To give or not to give? Equity, efficiency and altruistic behavior in an artefactual field experiment," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 1-9.
  11. Birkeland, Sigbjørn & Cappelen, Alexander W. & Sørensen, Erik Ø. & Tungodden, Bertil, 2011. "Immoral criminals? An experimental study of social preferences among prisoners," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 15/2011, Department of Economics, Norwegian School of Economics.
  12. Johnson, Noel D. & Mislin, Alexandra A., 2011. "Trust games: A meta-analysis," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 865-889.
  13. Barham, Bradford L. & Chavas, Jean-Paul & Fitz, Dylan & Salas, Vanessa Ríos & Schechter, Laura, 2014. "The roles of risk and ambiguity in technology adoption," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 204-218.

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