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Risk attitudes, randomization to treatment, and self-selection into experiments

  • Elisabet Rutstrom
  • Glenn Harrison
  • Morten Lau

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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Paper provided by The Field Experiments Website in its series Artefactual Field Experiments with number 00061.

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Date of creation: 2005
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Handle: RePEc:feb:artefa:00061
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.fieldexperiments.com

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  1. Glenn W. Harrison & Morten I. Lau & Melonie B. Williams, 2002. "Estimating Individual Discount Rates in Denmark: A Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1606-1617, December.
  2. James J. Heckman, 1976. "The Common Structure of Statistical Models of Truncation, Sample Selection and Limited Dependent Variables and a Simple Estimator for Such Models," NBER Chapters, in: Annals of Economic and Social Measurement, Volume 5, number 4, pages 475-492 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Charles A. Holt & Susan K. Laury, 2002. "Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1644-1655, December.
  4. Glenn W. Harrison & Morten I. Lau & E. Elisabet Rutström, 2007. "Estimating Risk Attitudes in Denmark: A Field Experiment," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 109(2), pages 341-368, 06.
  5. Francis Vella, 1998. "Estimating Models with Sample Selection Bias: A Survey," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 33(1), pages 127-169.
  6. Glenn Harrison & John List, 2004. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00058, The Field Experiments Website.
  7. Palfrey, Thomas R. & Pevnitskaya, Svetlana, 2008. "Endogenous entry and self-selection in private value auctions: An experimental study," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 66(3-4), pages 731-747, June.
  8. Steffen Andersen & Glenn W. Harrison & Morten I. Lau & E. Elisabet Rutström, 2008. "Lost In State Space: Are Preferences Stable?," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 49(3), pages 1091-1112, 08.
  9. James J. Heckman & Jeffrey A. Smith, 1995. "Assessing the Case for Social Experiments," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 85-110, Spring.
  10. Elisabet Rutstrom & Glenn Harrison & Melonie Williams & Morten Lau, 2005. "Eliciting risk and time preferences using field experiments: Some methodological issues," Artefactual Field Experiments 00063, The Field Experiments Website.
  11. Mitali Das & Whitney K. Newey & Francis Vella, 2003. "Nonparametric Estimation of Sample Selection Models," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(1), pages 33-58.
  12. Heckman, James J. & Robb, Richard Jr., 1985. "Alternative methods for evaluating the impact of interventions : An overview," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1-2), pages 239-267.
  13. Dan Lovallo & Colin Camerer, 1999. "Overconfidence and Excess Entry: An Experimental Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 306-318, March.
  14. Steffen Andersen & Glenn W. Harrison & Morten I. Lau & E. Elisabet Rutström, 2008. "Eliciting Risk and Time Preferences," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 76(3), pages 583-618, 05.
  15. Heckman, James, 2013. "Sample selection bias as a specification error," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 31(3), pages 129-137.
  16. Glenn W. Harrison & Eric Johnson & Melayne M. McInnes & E. Elisabet Rutström, 2005. "Temporal stability of estimates of risk aversion," Applied Financial Economics Letters, Taylor and Francis Journals, vol. 1(1), pages 31-35, January.
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