What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?
A critical question facing experimental economists is whether behavior inside the laboratory is a good indicator of behavior outside the laboratory. To address that question, we build a model in which the choices that individuals make depend not just on financial implications, but also on the nature and extent of scrutiny by others, the particular context in which a decision is embedded, and the manner in which participants and tasks are selected. We present empirical evidence demonstrating the importance of these various factors. To the extent that lab and naturally occurring environments systematically differ on any of these dimensions, the results obtained inside and outside the lab need not correspond. Focusing on experiments designed to measure social preferences, we discuss the extent to which the existing laboratory results generalize to naturally-occurring markets. We summarize cases where the lab may understate the importance of social preferences as well as instances in which the lab might exaggerate their importance. We conclude by emphasizing the importance of interpreting laboratory and field data through the lens of theory.
Volume (Year): 21 (2007)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
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Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
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- Soetevent, Adriaan R., 2005. "Anonymity in giving in a natural context--a field experiment in 30 churches," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(11-12), pages 2301-2323, December.
- Robert Slonim & Alvin E. Roth, 1998. "Learning in High Stakes Ultimatum Games: An Experiment in the Slovak Republic," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(3), pages 569-596, May.
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