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


  • Steven Kachelmeier


  • Kristy Towry



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

Suggested Citation

  • Steven Kachelmeier & Kristy Towry, 2005. "The Limitations of Experimental Design: A Case Study Involving Monetary Incentive Effects in Laboratory Markets," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 8(1), pages 21-33, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:8:y:2005:i:1:p:21-33
    DOI: 10.1007/s10683-005-0435-5

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
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    4. 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.
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    6. 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.
    7. 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 107-123, January.
    8. Jan Krahnen & Martin Weber, 2001. "Marketmaking in the Laboratory: Does Competition Matter?," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 4(1), pages 55-85, June.
    9. 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.
    10. Huynh Huynh & Leonard S. Feldt, 1976. "Estimation of the Box Correction for Degrees of Freedom from Sample Data in Randomized Block and Split-Plot Designs," Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics, , vol. 1(1), pages 69-82, March.
    11. Plott, Charles R. & Gray, Peter., 1989. "Multiple Unit Double Auction," Working Papers 625, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
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