Risk attitudes, randomization to treatment, and self-selection into experiments
Randomization to treatment is fundamental to statistical control in the design of experiments. But randomization implies some uncertainty about treatment condition, and individuals differ in their preferences towards taking on risk. Since human subjects often volunteer for experiments, or are allowed to drop out of the experiment at any time if they want to, it is possible that the sample observed in an experiment might be biased because of the risk of randomization. On the other hand, the widespread use of a guaranteed show-up fee that is non-stochastic may generate sample selection biases of the opposite direction, encouraging more risk averse samples into experiments. We undertake a field experiment to directly test these hypotheses that risk attitudes play a role in sample selection. We follow standard procedures in the social sciences to recruit subjects to an experiment in which we measure their attitudes to risk. We exploit the fact that we know certain characteristics of the population sampled, adults in Denmark, allowing a statistical correction for sample selection bias using standard methods. We also utilize the fact that we have a complex sampling design to provide better estimates of the target population. Our results suggest that randomization bias is not a major empirical problem for field experiments of the kind we conducted if the objective is to identify marginal effects of sample characteristics. However, there is evidence that the use of show-up fees may have generated a sample that was more risk averse than would otherwise have been observed.
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