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The Limitations of Experimental Design: A Case Study Involving Monetary Incentive Effects in Laboratory Markets

  • Steven Kachelmeier


  • Kristy Towry


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    We replicate an influential study of monetary incentive effects by Jamal and Sunder (1991) to illustrate the difficulties of drawing causal inferences from a treatment manipulation when other features of the experimental design vary simultaneously. We first show that the Jamal and Sunder (1991) conclusions hinge on one of their laboratory market sessions, conducted only within their fixed-pay condition, that is characterized by a thin market and asymmetric supply and demand curves. When we replicate this structure multiple times under both fixed pay and pay tied to performance, our findings do not support Jamal and Sunder’s (1991) conclusion about the incremental effects of performance-based compensation, suggesting that other features varied in that study likely account for their observed difference. Our ceteris paribus replication leaves us unable to offer any generalized conclusions about the effects of monetary incentives in other market structures, but the broader point is to illustrate that experimental designs that attempt to generalize effects by varying multiple features simultaneously can jeopardize the ability to draw causal inferences about the primary treatment manipulation. Copyright Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

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    Article provided by Springer in its journal Experimental Economics.

    Volume (Year): 8 (2005)
    Issue (Month): 1 (April)
    Pages: 21-33

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    Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:8:y:2005:i:1:p:21-33
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    1. Jan Pieter Krahnen & Martin Weber, 2001. "Marketmaking in the Laboratory: Does Competition Matter?," Working Paper Series: Finance and Accounting 4, Department of Finance, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.
    2. Jamal, Karim & Sunder, Shyam, 1991. "Money vs gaming: Effects of salient monetary payments in double oral auctions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 49(1), pages 151-166, June.
    3. Deirdre N. McCloskey & Stephen T. Ziliak, 1996. "The Standard Error of Regressions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(1), pages 97-114, March.
    4. Anderson, Matthew J. & Sunder, Shyam, 1995. "Professional Traders as Intuitive Bayesians," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 185-202, November.
    5. Plott, Charles R. & Gray, Peter., 1989. "Multiple Unit Double Auction," Working Papers 625, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
    6. Friedman,Daniel & Sunder,Shyam, 1994. "Experimental Methods," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521456821, October.
    7. Brandouy, Olivier, 2001. "Laboratory incentive structure and control-test design in an experimental asset market," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 1-26, February.
    8. Holt, Charles A & Langan, Loren W & Villamil, Anne P, 1986. "Market Power in Oral Double Auctions," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 24(1), pages 107-23, January.
    9. Camerer, Colin F & Hogarth, Robin M, 1999. "The Effects of Financial Incentives in Experiments: A Review and Capital-Labor-Production Framework," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 19(1-3), pages 7-42, December.
    10. Smith, Vernon L & Walker, James M, 1993. "Monetary Rewards and Decision Cost in Experimental Economics," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 31(2), pages 245-61, April.
    11. Jamal, Karim & Sunder, Shyam, 1996. "Bayesian equilibrium in double auctions populated by biased heuristic traders," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 273-291, November.
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