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Observational Learning: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Field Experiment

  • Hongbin Cai
  • Yuyu Chen
  • Hanming Fang

We report results from a randomized natural field experiment conducted in a restaurant dining setting to distinguish the observational learning effect from the saliency effect. We find that, when customers are given ranking information of the five most popular dishes, the demand for those dishes increases by 13 to 20 percent. We do not find a significant saliency effect. We also find modest evidence that the observational learning effects are stronger among infrequent customers, and that dining satisfaction is increased when customers are presented with the information of the top five dishes, but not when presented with only names of some sample dishes. (JEL C93, D83)

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

Volume (Year): 99 (2009)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 864-82

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:99:y:2009:i:3:p:864-82
Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.99.3.864
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  1. Charles F. Manski, 2000. "Economic Analysis of Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 7580, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Anderson, Lisa R & Holt, Charles A, 1997. "Information Cascades in the Laboratory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 847-62, December.
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  9. Edward Vytlacil & James J. Heckman, 2001. "Policy-Relevant Treatment Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 107-111, May.
  10. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 1998. "Learning from the Behavior of Others: Conformity, Fads, and Informational Cascades," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 151-170, Summer.
  11. Bikhchandani, Sushil & Hirshleifer, David & Welch, Ivo, 1992. "A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change in Informational Cascades," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(5), pages 992-1026, October.
  12. Esther Duflo & Emmanuel Saez, 2000. "Participation and Investment Decisions in a Retirement Plan: The Influence of Colleagues' Choices," NBER Working Papers 7735, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Manski, C.F., 1991. "Identification of Endogenous Social Effects: the Reflection Problem," Working papers 9127, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  14. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-77, October.
  15. Glenn Harrison & John List, 2004. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00058, The Field Experiments Website.
  16. Bogaçhan Çelen & Shachar Kariv, 2004. "Distinguishing Informational Cascades from Herd Behavior in the Laboratory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 484-498, June.
  17. Patrick Bayer & Stephen L. Ross & Giorgio Topa, 2005. "Place of Work and Place of Residence: Informal Hiring Networks and Labor Market Outcomes," Working Papers 927, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  18. Foster, Andrew D & Rosenzweig, Mark R, 1995. "Learning by Doing and Learning from Others: Human Capital and Technical Change in Agriculture," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(6), pages 1176-1209, December.
  19. Banerjee, Abhijit V, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817, August.
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