IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this paper or follow this series

The Online Laboratory: Conducting Experiments in a Real Labor Market

  • John J. Horton
  • David G. Rand
  • Richard J. Zeckhauser

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.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15961.

in new window

Date of creation: May 2010
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as John Horton & David Rand & Richard Zeckhauser, 2011. "The online laboratory: conducting experiments in a real labor market," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 14(3), pages 399-425, September.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15961
Note: LE LS
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Phone: 617-868-3900
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. 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.
  2. Uri Gneezy & Kenneth L. Leonard & John A. List, 2009. "Gender Differences in Competition: Evidence From a Matrilineal and a Patriarchal Society," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(5), pages 1637-1664, 09.
  3. Armin Falk & James J. Heckman, 2009. "Lab Experiments are a Major Source of Knowledge in the Social Sciences," CESifo Working Paper Series 2894, CESifo Group Munich.
  4. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., . "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Chapters in Economics, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  5. Levitt, Steven D. & List, John A., 2009. "Field experiments in economics: The past, the present, and the future," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 1-18, January.
  6. Jordi Brandts & Gary Charness, 2000. "Hot vs. Cold: Sequential Responses and Preference Stability in Experimental Games," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 2(3), pages 227-238, March.
  7. Catherine Eckel & Rick Wilson, 2006. "Internet cautions: Experimental games with internet partners," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 53-66, April.
  8. Glenn Harrison & John List, 2004. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00058, The Field Experiments Website.
  9. Bandiera, Oriana & Barankay, Iwan & Rasul, Imran, 2009. "Social Connections and Incentives in the Workplace: Evidence from Personnel Data," CEPR Discussion Papers 7114, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. 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.
  11. Alexandre Mas & Enrico Moretti, 2009. "Peers at Work," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 112-45, March.
  12. Benedikt Herrmann & Christian Thoeni, 2007. "Measuring Conditional Cooperation: A Replication Study in Russia," Discussion Papers 2007-07, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
  13. 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.
  14. Simon Gachter & Ernst Fehr, 2000. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 980-994, September.
  15. 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.
  16. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  17. 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.
  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.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15961. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ()

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.