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Deceptive Field Experiments of Discrimination: Are they Ethical?


  • Peter A. Riach
  • Judith Rich


Field experiments in which bogus pairs of transactors test for discrimination by applying for employment or housing, or by trading in product markets, have been widely‐published during the last decade. However, no detailed justification has been provided for the deception involved. The general lack of veracity in the market‐place, the social harm inflicted by discrimination and the superior accuracy and transparency of this technique justify deceiving the subjects of experiments. Deception of testers, however, may do them harm, contravenes the ethical standards of psychologists and sociologists and is unnecessary, as alternative procedures are available to deal with ‘experimenter effects’. Im letzten Jahrzehnt wurden viele Feldexperimente publiziert, in denen Paare von vorgetäuschten Akteuren die Diskriminierung bei der Arbeits‐ oder Wohnungssuche oder bei Transaktionen auf Produktmärkten testen sollten. Es wurde aber keine detaillierte Rechtfertigung für die Täuschung erbracht, die mit diesen Experimenten verbunden ist. Das generelle Fehlen von Wahrhaftigkeit im Marktgeschehen, die sozialen Schäden, die durch Diskriminierung entstehen, sowie die besondere Genauigkeit und Transparenz dieser Methode rechtfertigen es, die Subjekte der Experimente zutäuschen. Hingegen kann die Täuschung der Tester diesen Schaden zufügen, widerspricht den ethischen Standards von Psychologen und Soziologen und ist unnötig, da alternative Methoden zur Verfügung stehen, um mit ‘Experimentiereffekten’ umzugehen. Ces dix dernières années, nombreux ont été les ouvrages publiés traitant de discrimination, mise en lumière par des tests menés par des couples de faux candidats à des emplois, des logements, ou des transactions commerciales. Cependant, aucune justification détaillée n'a été avancée pour la duperie liée à ces tests. Le manque général de véracité de l'économie de marché, le dommage social occasionné par une quelconque discrimination ainsi que la précision de cette technique justifient le fait de tromper les sujets de ces tests. Le fait de tromper les testeurs par contre peut leur nuire, est contraire à l'éthique des psychologues et sociologues, et est de plus superflu. En effet, il existe des procédures alternatives qui permettent de gérer les effets de l'expérience.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter A. Riach & Judith Rich, 2004. "Deceptive Field Experiments of Discrimination: Are they Ethical?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 57(3), pages 457-470, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:kyklos:v:57:y:2004:i:3:p:457-470
    DOI: 10.1111/j.0023-5962.2004.00262.x

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Doris Weichselbaumer, 2004. "Is It Sex or Personality? The Impact of Sex Stereotypes on Discrimination in Applicant Selection," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 30(2), pages 159-186, Spring.
    2. Michael Fix & Raymond Struyk, 1993. "Clear and convincing evidence: Measurement of discrimination in america," Natural Field Experiments 00241, The Field Experiments Website.
    3. Kurt W. Rothschild, 1993. "Ethics And Economic Theory," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 379.
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