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Observational Learning: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Field Experiment

  • Hongbin Cai
  • Yuyu Chen
  • Hanming Fang

We present results about the effects of observing others' choices, called observational learning, on individuals' behavior and subjective well-being in the context of restaurant dining from a randomized natural field experiment. Our experimental design aims to distinguish observational learning effect from saliency effect (because observing others' choices also makes these choices more salient). We find that, depending on specifications, the demand for the top 5 dishes was increased by an average of about 13 to 18 percent when these popularity rankings were revealed to the customers; in contrast, being merely mentioned as some sample dishes did not significantly boost their demand. Moreover, we find that, consistent with theoretical predictions, some modest evidence that observational learning effect was stronger among infrequent customers. We also find that customers' subjective dining experiences were improved when presented with the information about the top choices by other consumers, but not when presented with the names of some sample dishes.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13516.

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Date of creation: Oct 2007
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Publication status: published as Hongbin Cai & Yuyu Chen & Hanming Fang, 2009. "Observational Learning: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(3), pages 864-82, June.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13516
Note: LS PE
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  1. Timothy Besley & Anne Case, 1994. "Diffusion as a Learning Process: Evidence from HYV Cotton," Working Papers 228, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  2. Giorgio Topa & Stephen Ross & Patrick Bayer, 2005. "Place of Work and Place of Residence: Informal Hiring Networks and Labor Market Outcomes," Working Papers 05-23, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
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  15. Banerjee, Abhijit V, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817, August.
  16. Bogaçhan Çelen & Shachar Kariv, 2004. "Distinguishing Informational Cascades from Herd Behavior in the Laboratory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 484-498, June.
  17. Edward Vytlacil & James J. Heckman, 2001. "Policy-Relevant Treatment Effects," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 107-111, May.
  18. Patrick Bayer & Stephen L. Ross & Giorgio Topa, 2005. "Place of Work and Place of Residence: Informal Hiring Networks and Labor Market Outcomes," Working Papers 927, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  19. Bernheim, B Douglas, 1994. "A Theory of Conformity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 841-77, October.
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