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Consequentiality: A Theoretical and Experimental Exploration of a Single Binary Choice

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  • Richard T. Carson
  • Theodore Groves
  • John A. List

Abstract

Researchers, using contingent valuation (CV) to value changes in nonmarket goods, typically believe respondents always answer questions truthfully or they answer truthfully only when it is in their interest to do so. The second position, while consistent with economic theory, implies that interpreting survey responses depends critically on the incentive structure provided. We derive simple tests capable of distinguishing the two views. Our theoretical model for examining the incentive structure of a single binary choice relaxes the usual expected utility assumption. We test our theory using a field experiment involving voting to provide a public good. Experimental results are consistent theoretical predictions and cast doubt on the relevance of a large experimental literature using inconsequential questions and non-incentive-compatible mechanisms to make inferences about CV. The framework put forth should help in understanding the role played by theoretical conditions for preference elicitation and lend insight into the hypothetical bias literature.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard T. Carson & Theodore Groves & John A. List, 2014. "Consequentiality: A Theoretical and Experimental Exploration of a Single Binary Choice," Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(1), pages 171-207.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jaerec:doi:10.1086/676450
    DOI: 10.1086/676450
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