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The Online Laboratory: Conducting Experiments in a Real Labor Market

  • Horton, John J.

    (Harvard University)

  • Rand, David G.

    (Harvard University)

  • Zeckhauser, Richard

    (Harvard University)

Online labor markets have great potential as platforms for conducting experiments, as they provide immediate access to a large and diverse subject pool and allow researchers to conduct randomized controlled trials. We argue that online experiments can be just as valid--both internally and externally--as laboratory and field experiments, while requiring far less money and time to design and to conduct. In this paper, we first describe the benefits of conducting experiments in online labor markets; we then use one such market to replicate three classic experiments and confirm their results. We confirm that subjects (1) reverse decisions in response to how a decision-problem is framed, (2) have pro-social preferences (value payoffs to others positively), and (3) respond to priming by altering their choices. We also conduct a labor supply field experiment in which we confirm that workers have upward sloping labor supply curves. In addition to reporting these results, we discuss the unique threats to validity in an online setting and propose methods for coping with these threats. We also discuss the external validity of results from online domains and explain why online results can have external validity equal to or even better than that of traditional methods, depending on the research question. We conclude with our views on the potential role that online experiments can play within the social sciences, and then recommend software development priorities and best practices.

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Paper provided by Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government in its series Working Paper Series with number rwp10-017.

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Date of creation: Apr 2010
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Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp10-017
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  1. Benedikt Herrmann & Christian Thöni, 2009. "Measuring conditional cooperation: a replication study in Russia," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 87-92, March.
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  3. Kocher, Martin G. & Sutter, Matthias, 2005. "The decision maker matters: Individual versus group behaviour in experimental beauty-contest games," Munich Reprints in Economics 18213, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  4. Paul Resnick & Richard Zeckhauser & John Swanson & Kate Lockwood, 2006. "The value of reputation on eBay: A controlled experiment," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 9(2), pages 79-101, June.
  5. David Reiley & John List, 2008. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00091, The Field Experiments Website.
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  8. Armin Falk & James J. Heckman, 2009. "Lab Experiments are a Major Source of Knowledge in the Social Sciences," Working Papers 200935, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  9. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  10. Iris Bohnet & Fiona Greig & Benedikt Herrmann & Richard Zeckhauser, 2008. "Betrayal Aversion: Evidence from Brazil, China, Oman, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 294-310, March.
  11. Tyran, Jean-Robert, 2003. "Behavioral Game Theory. Experiments in Strategic Interaction: Colin F. Camerer, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2003, p. 550, Price $65.00/[UK pound]42.95, ISBN 0-691-09039-4," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 717-720, December.
  12. Brandts, J. & Charness, G., 1998. "Hot Vs. Cold: Sequential Responses and Preference Stability in Experimental Games," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 424.98, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  13. John List & Kenneth Leonard & Uri Gneezy, 2009. "Gender differences in competition: Evidence from a matrilineal and a patriarchal society," Artefactual Field Experiments 00049, The Field Experiments Website.
  14. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, 1999. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," CESifo Working Paper Series 183, CESifo Group Munich.
  15. John List & Steven Levitt, 2009. "Field experiments in economics: The past, the present, and the future," Artefactual Field Experiments 00079, The Field Experiments Website.
  16. Mas, Alexandre & Moretti, Enrico, 2006. "Peers at Work," CEPR Discussion Papers 5870, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  17. Horton, John J., 2011. "The condition of the Turking class: Are online employers fair and honest?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 111(1), pages 10-12, April.
  18. Daniel J. Benjamin & James J. Choi & Geoffrey W. Fisher, 2010. "Religious Identity and Economic Behavior," NBER Working Papers 15925, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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