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The Willingness to Pay–Willingness to Accept Gap, the "Endowment Effect," Subject Misconceptions, and Experimental Procedures for Eliciting Valuations

  • Charles R. Plott
  • Kathryn Zeiler

We conduct experiments to explore the possibility that subject misconceptions, as opposed to a particular theory of preferences referred to as the "endowment effect," account for reported gaps between willingness to pay ("WTP") and willingness to accept ("WTA"). The literature reveals two important facts. First, there is no consensus regarding the nature or robustness of WTP-WTA gaps. Second, while experimenters are careful to control for subject misconceptions, there is no consensus about the fundamental properties of misconceptions or how to avoid them. Instead, by implementing different types of experimental controls, experimenters have revealed notions of how misconceptions arise. Experimenters have applied these controls separately or in different combinations. Such controls include ensuring subject anonymity, using incentive-compatible elicitation mechanisms, and providing subjects with practice and training on the elicitation mechanism before employing it to measure valuations. The pattern of results reported in the literature suggests that the widely differing reports of WTP-WTA gaps could be due to an incomplete science regarding subject misconceptions. We implement a "revealed theory" methodology to compensate for the lack of a theory of misconceptions. Theories implicit in experimental procedures found in the literature are at the heart of our experimental design. Thus, our approach to addressing subject misconceptions reflects an attempt to control simultaneously for all dimensions of concern over possible subject misconceptions found in the literature. To this end, our procedures modify the Becker-DeGroot-Marschak mechanism used in previous studies to elicit values. In addition, our procedures supplement commonly used procedures by providing extensive training on the elicitation mechanism before subjects provide WTP and WTA responses. Experiments were conducted using both lotteries and mugs, goods frequently used in endowment effect experiments. Using the modified procedures, we observe no gap between WTA and WTP. Therefore, our results call into question the interpretation of observed gaps as evidence of loss aversion or prospect theory. Further evidence is required before convincing interpretations of observed gaps can be advanced.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 95 (2005)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 530-545

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:95:y:2005:i:3:p:530-545
Note: DOI: 10.1257/0002828054201387
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  1. Shogren, Jason F. & Shin, Seung Youll & Hayes, Dermot J. & Kliebenstein, James, 1994. "Resolving Differences in Willingness to Pay and Willingness to Accept," Staff General Research Papers 701, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  2. Shogren, Jason F. & Cho, Sungwon & Koo, Cannon & List, John & Park, Changwon & Polo, Pablo & Wilhelmi, Robert, 2001. "Auction mechanisms and the measurement of WTP and WTA," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 97-109, April.
  3. Ortona, Guido & Scacciati, Francesco, 1992. "New experiments on the endowment effect," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 277-296, June.
  4. Arlen, Jennifer & Spitzer, Matthew & Talley, Eric, 2002. "Endowment Effects within Corporate Agency Relationships," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(1), pages 1-37, January.
  5. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-48, December.
  6. Heifetz, Aviad & Segev, Ella, 2004. "The evolutionary role of toughness in bargaining," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 117-134, October.
  7. Gwendolyn Morrison, 1997. "Willingness to pay and willingness to accept: some evidence of an endowment effect," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(4), pages 411-417.
  8. Harless, David W., 1989. "More laboratory evidence on the disparity between willingness to pay and compensation demanded," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 359-379, May.
  9. Bateman, Ian & Kahneman, Daniel & Munro, Alistair & Starmer, Chris & Sugden, Robert, 2005. "Testing competing models of loss aversion: an adversarial collaboration," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(8), pages 1561-1580, August.
  10. Jack Knetsch & Fang-Fang Tang & Richard Thaler, 2001. "The Endowment Effect and Repeated Market Trials: Is the Vickrey Auction Demand Revealing?," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 4(3), pages 257-269, December.
  11. repec:oup:qjecon:v:99:y:1984:i:3:p:507-21 is not listed on IDEAS
  12. Knetsch, Jack L, 1989. "The Endowment Effect and Evidence of Nonreversible Indifference Curves," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(5), pages 1277-84, December.
  13. Singh, Harinder, 1991. "The disparity between willingness to pay and compensation demanded : Another look at laboratory evidence," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 35(3), pages 263-266, March.
  14. Holt, Charles A, 1986. "Preference Reversals and the Independence Axiom," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 508-15, June.
  15. Knez, Peter & Smith, Vernon L & Williams, Arlington W, 1985. "Individual Rationality, Market Rationality, and Value Estimation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 397-402, May.
  16. Franciosi, Robert & Kujal, Praveen & Michelitsch, Roland & Smith, Vernon & Deng, Gang, 1996. "Experimental tests of the endowment effect," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 213-226, August.
  17. John A. List & Jason F. Shogren, 1999. "Price Information and Bidding Behavior in Repeated Second-Price Auctions," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 81(4), pages 942-949.
  18. Dubourg, W R & Jones-Lee, M W & Loomes, Graham, 1994. "Imprecise Preferences and the WTP-WTA Disparity," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 115-33, October.
  19. Horowitz, John K. & McConnell, Kenneth E., 2002. "A Review of WTA/WTP Studies," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 426-447, November.
  20. repec:oup:qjecon:v:102:y:1987:i:3:p:679-90 is not listed on IDEAS
  21. Brookshire, David S & Coursey, Don L, 1987. "Measuring the Value of a Public Good: An Empirical Comparison of Elicitation Procedures," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 554-66, September.
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