Indranil Goswami, Oleg Urminsky
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We present a complete empirical case study of fundraising decisions that demonstrates the importance of in-context field experiments. We first design novel matching-based fundraising appeals. We derive theory-based predictions from the standard impure altruism model and solicit expert opinion about the potential performance of our interventions. Both theory-based predictions and descriptive advice suggest improved fundraising performance from a framing intervention that credited donors for the matched funds (compared to a typical match framing). However, results from a natural field experiment with prior donors of a non-profit showed significantly poorer performance of this framing compared to a regularly framed matching intervention. This surprising finding was confirmed in a second natural field experiment, to establish the ground truth. Theoretically, our results highlight the limitations of both impure altruism models and of expert opinion in prediction complex "warm glow" motivation. More practically, our results question the availability of useful guidance, and suggest the indispensability of field testing for interventions in fundraising.
John A List
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"Putting Economic Research into Practice at Businesses (to Inform Science and Major Social Challenges)" Slides from ASSA NABE
Rudolf Kerschbamer, Daniel Neururer, Matthias Sutter
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Honesty is a fundamental pillar for cooperation in human societies and thus for their economic welfare. However, humans do not always act in an honest way. Here, we examine how insurance coverage affects the degree of honesty in credence good markets. Such markets are plagued by strong incentives for fraudulent behavior of sellers, resulting in estimated annual costs of billions of dollars to costumers and the society as a whole. Prime examples of credence goods are all kinds of repair services, the provision of medical treatments, the sale of software programs, and the provision of taxi rides in unfamiliar cities. We examine in a natural field experiment how computer repair shops take advantage of costumers' insurance for repair costs. In a control treatment, the average repair price is about EUR 70, whereas the repair bill increases by more than 80% when the service provider is informed that an insurance would reimburse the bill. Our design allows decomposing the sources of this economically impressive difference, showing that it is mainly due to the overprovision of parts and overcharging of working time. A survey among repair shops shows that the higher bills are mainly ascribed to insured costumers being less likely to be concerned about minimizing costs because a third party (the insurer) pays the bill. Overall, our results strongly suggest that insurance coverage greatly increases the extent of dishonesty in important sectors of the economy with potentially huge costs to costumers and whole economies.
Damon Clark, David Gill, Victoria Prowse , Mark Rush
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Will college students who set goals for themselves work harder and achieve better outcomes? In theory, setting goals can help present-biased students to mitigate their self-control problem. In practice, there is little credible evidence on the causal effects on goal setting for college students. We report the result of two field experiments that involved almost four thousand college students in total. One experiments asked treated students to set goals for performance in the course; the other asked treated students to set goals for a particular task (completing online practice exams). Task-based goals had robust positive effects on the level of task completion, and task-based goals also increased course performance. We also find that performance-based goals had positive but small effects on course performance. We use a theoretical framework that builds on present bias and loss aversion to interpret our results. Since task-based goal setting is low-cost, scalable and logistically simple, we conclude that our findings have important implications for educational practice and future research.
John A List
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These are the slides from John A. List's keynote at the 2022 AFE conference.
Omar Isaac Asensio, Magali A Delmas
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Little is known about the effect of message framing on conservation behavior over time. In a randomized controlled trial with residential households, we use advanced metering and information technologies to test how different messages about household energy use impact the dynamics of conservation behavior down to the appliance level. Our results, based on 374 million panel observations of kilowatt-hour (kWh) electricity consumption for 118 households over 9 months, show that differences in behavioral responses due to message framing become more significant over time. We find that a health-based frame, in which households consider the human health effects of their marginal electricity use, induced persistent energy savings behavior of 8-10% over 100 days; whereas a more traditional cost savings frame, drove sharp attenuation of treatment effects after 2 weeks with no significant savings versus control after 7 weeks. We discuss the implications for the design of effective information campaigns to engage households in conservation behavior.
Loukas Balafoutas, Nikos Nikiforakis, Bettina Rockenbach
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The degree of human cooperation among strangers is a major evolutionary puzzle. A prominent explanation is that cooperation maintained because many individuals have a predisposition to punish those violating group-beneficial norms. A critical condition for cooperation to evolve in evolutionary models is that punishment increases with the severity of the violation. Here we present evidence from a field experiment with real-life interactions that, unlike in lab experiments, altruistic punishment does not increase with the severity of the violation, regardless of whether it is direct (confronting a violator) or indirect (withholding help). We also document growing concerns for counter-punishment as the severity of the violation increases, indicating that the marginal cost of direct punishment increases with the severity of violations. The evidence suggests that altruistic punishment may not provide appropriate incentives to deter large violations. Our findings thus offer a rationale for the emergence of formal institutions for prompting large-scale cooperation among strangers.
Eszter Czibor, David Jimenez-Gomez, John A List
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What was once broadly viewed as an impossibility - learning from experimental data in economics - has now become commonplace. Governmental bodies, think tanks, and corporations around the world employ teams of experimental researchers to answer their most pressing questions. For their part, in the past two decades academics have begun to more actively partner with organizations to generate data via field experimentation. While this revolution in evidence-based approaches has served to deepen the economic science, recently a credibility crisis has caused even the most ardent experimental proponents to pause. This study takes a step back from the burgeoning experimental literature and introduces 12 actions that might help to alleviate this credibility crisis and raise experimental economics to an even higher level. In this way, we view our "12 action wish list" as discussion points to enrich the field.
Andreas Leibbrandt, John A List
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Labor force composition and the allocation of talent remain of vital import to modern economies. For their part, governments and companies around the globe have implemented equal employment opportunity (EEO) regulations to influence labor market flows. Even though such regulations are pervasive, surprisingly little is known about their impacts. We use a natural field experiment conducted across 10 U.S. cities to investigate if EEO statements in job advertisements affect the first step in the employment process, application rates. Making use of data from nearly 2,500 job seekers, we find considerable policy effects, but in an unexpected direction: the presence of an EEO statement dampens rather than encourages racial minorities willingness to apply for jobs. Importantly, the effects are particularly pronounced for educated job seekers and in cities with white majority populations. Complementary survey evidence suggests the underlying mechanism at work is "tokenism", revealing that EEO statements backfire because racial minorities avoid environments in which they are perceived as regulatory, or symbolic, hires rather than being hired on their own merits. Beyond their practical and theoretical importance, our results highlight how field experiments can significantly improve policy making. In this case, if one goal of EEO regulations is to enhance the pool of minority applicants, then it is not working.
Syon Bhanot
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Social norms messaging campaigns are increasingly used to influence human behavior, with social science research generally finding that they have modest but meaningful effects. One aspect of these campaigns in practice has been the inclusion of injunctive norms messaging, designed to convey a social judgement about one's behaviors (often in the form of encouraging or discouraging language, or a visual smiley or frowny face). While some prominent research has provided support for the use of such messaging as a tool for positive behavior change, causal evidence on the effect of injunctive norms messaging as a motivator (as opposed to just one part of a multifaceted messaging campaign) is limited. This paper presents a field experiment on water conservation behavior conducted by an organization in California, involving over 40,000 households, which provides some of the most precise evidence to date regarding the effect of injunctive norms on decision making. I find that not only do injunctive norms encourage conservation behavior, there is also no evidence that they discourage individuals from further attending norms messaging-regardless of whether the social judgement conveyed is negative or positive. Taken together, this suggests that injunctive norms are a useful tool in "nudge"-style campaigns tackling behavior change.