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Preference heterogeneity in experiments: Comparing the field and lab

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  • Steffen Andersen
  • Glenn Harrison
  • Morten Lau
  • Elisabet Rutstrom

Abstract

Economists recognize that preferences can differ across individuals. We examine the strengths and weaknesses of lab and field experiments to detect differences in preferences that are associated with standard, observable characteristics of the individual. We consider preferences over risk and time, two fundamental concepts of economics. Our results provide striking evidence that there are good reasons to conduct field experiments. The lab fails to detect preference heterogeneity that is present in the field, obviously due to the demographic homogeneity of the lab. There are also differences in treatment effects measured in the lab and the field that can be traced to interactions between treatment and demographic effects. These can only be detected and controlled for properly in the field data. Thus one cannot simply claim, without additional empirical argument or assumption, that treatment effects estimated in the lab are reliable.

Suggested Citation

  • Steffen Andersen & Glenn Harrison & Morten Lau & Elisabet Rutstrom, 2004. "Preference heterogeneity in experiments: Comparing the field and lab," Artefactual Field Experiments 00004, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:artefa:00004
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Colin Camerer & Teck-Hua Ho & Juin Kuan Chong, 2003. "A cognitive hierarchy theory of one-shot games: Some preliminary results," Levine's Bibliography 506439000000000495, UCLA Department of Economics.
    2. Peter Arcidiacono & John Bailey Jones, 2003. "Finite Mixture Distributions, Sequential Likelihood and the EM Algorithm," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(3), pages 933-946, May.
    3. Hamparsum Bozdogan, 1987. "Model selection and Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC): The general theory and its analytical extensions," Psychometrika, Springer;The Psychometric Society, vol. 52(3), pages 345-370, September.
    4. Nagel, Rosemarie, 1995. "Unraveling in Guessing Games: An Experimental Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1313-1326, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alma Cohen & Liran Einav, 2007. "Estimating Risk Preferences from Deductible Choice," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(3), pages 745-788, June.
    2. von Gaudecker, H.M. & van Soest, A.H.O. & Wengstrom, E., 2008. "Selection and Mode Effects in Risk Preference Elicitation Experiments," Discussion Paper 2008-11, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    3. Hans-Martin Gaudecker & Arthur Soest & Erik Wengström, 2012. "Experts in experiments," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 45(2), pages 159-190, October.
    4. Gary Charness & Marie Claire Villeval, 2009. "Cooperation and Competition in Intergenerational Experiments in the Field and in the Laboratory," Post-Print halshs-00371984, HAL.

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