Control Without Deception: Individual Behaviour in Free-Riding Experiments Revisited
Lying to participants offers an experimenter the enticing prospect of making “others' behaviour” a controlled variable, but is eschewed by experimental economists because it may pollute the pool of subjects. This paper proposes and implements a new experimental design, the Conditional Information Lottery, which offers all the benefits of deception without actually deceiving anyone. The design should be suitable for most economics experiments, and works by a modification of an already standard device, the Random Lottery incentive system. The deceptive scenarios of designs which use deceit are replaced with fictitious scenarios, each of which, from a subject's viewpoint, has a chance of being true. The design is implemented in a sequential play public good experiment prompted by Weimann's (1994) result, from a deceptive design, that subjects are more sensitive to free-riding than cooperation on the part of others. The experiment provides similar results to Weimann's, in that subjects are at least as cooperative when uninformed about others' behaviour as they are if reacting to high contributions. No deception is used and the data cohere well both internally and with other public goods experiments. In addition, simultaneous play is found to be more efficient than sequential play, and subjects contribute less at the end of a sequence than at the start. The results suggest pronounced elements of overconfidence, egoism and (biased) reciprocity in behaviour, which may explain decay in contributions in repeated play designs. The experiment shows there is a workable alternative to deception. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000
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