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.
John A List
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These are the slides from John A. List's keynote at the 2022 AFE conference.
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.
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.
Indranil Goswami, Oleg Urminsky
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How does setting a donation option as the default in a charitable appeal affect people's decisions? In eight studies, comprising 11,508 participants making 2,423 donation decisions in both experimental settings and a large scale-natural field experiment, we investigate the effect of "choice-option" defaults on the donation rate, average donation amount, and the resulting revenue. We find (1) a "lower-bar" effect, where defaulting a low amount increases donation rate, (2) a "scale-back" effect where low defaults reduce average donation amounts and (3) a "default-distraction' effect, where introducing any defaults reduces the effect of other cues, such as positive charity information. Contrary to the view that setting defaults will backfire, defaults increased revenue in our field study. However, our findings suggest that defaults can sometimes be a "self-cancelling" intervention, with countervailing effects of default option magnitude on decisions and resulting in no net effect on revenue. We discuss the implications of our findings for research on fundraising specifically, for choice architecture and behavioral interventions more generally, as well as for the use of "nudges" in policy decisions.
Omar Al-Ubaydli, John A List
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Natural field experiments investigating key labour market phenomena such as unemployment have only been used since the early 2000s. This paper reviews the literature and draws three primary conclusions that deepen our understanding of unemployment. First, the inability to monitor workers perfectly in many occupations complicates the hiring decision in a way that contributes to unemployment. Second, the inability to determine a worker's attributes precisely at the time of hiring leads to discrimination on the basis of factors such as race, gender, age and ethnicity. This can lead to systematically high and persistent levels of unemployment for groups that face discrimination. Third, the importance of social and personal dynamics in the workplace can lead to short-term unemployment. Much of the knowledge necessary for these conclusions could only be obtained using natural field experiments due to their ability to combine randomized control with an absence of experimenter demand effects.
Loukas Balafoutas, Nikos Nikiforakis, Bettina Rockenbach
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Many interactions in modern human societies are among strangers. Explaining cooperation in such interactions is challenging. The two most prominent explanations critically depend on individuals' willingness to punish defectors: In models of direct punishment, individuals punish antisocial behavior at a personal cost, whereas in models of indirect reciprocity, they punish indirectly by withholding rewards. We investigate these competing explanations in a field experiment with real-life interactions among strangers. We find clear evidence of both direct and indirect punishment. Direct punishment is not rewarded by strangers and, in line with models of indirect reciprocity, is crowded out by indirect punishment opportunities. The existence of direct and indirect punishment in daily life indicates the importance of both means of understanding the evolution of cooperation.
John A List, Jeffrey A Livingston, Susanne Neckermann
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In the face of worryingly low performance on standardized test, offering students financial incentives linked to academic performance has been proposed as a potentially cost-effective way to support improvement. However, a large literature across disciplines finds that extrinsic incentives, once removed, may crowd out intrinsic motivation on subsequent, similar tasks. We conduct a field experiment where students, parents, and tutors are offered incentives designed to encourage student preparation for a high-stakes state test. The incentives reward performance on a separate low-stakes assessment designed to measure the same skills as the high-stakes test. Performance on the high-stakes test, however, is not incentivized. We find substantial treatment effects on the incented tests but no effect on the non-incented test; if anything, the incentives result in worse performance on the non-incented test. We also find evidence supporting the conclusion that the incentives crowd out intrinsic motivation to perform well on the non-incented test, but this effect is only temporary. One year later, students who had been in the incentives treatments perform better than those in the control on the same non-incented test.
Alec Brandon, John A List, Robert D Metcalfe, Michael K Price, Florian Rundhammer
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This study considers the response of household electricity consumption to social nudges during peak load events. Our investigation considers two social nudges. The first targets conservation during peak load events, while the second promotes aggregate conservation. Using data from a natural field experiment with 42,100 households, we find that both social nudges reduce peak load electricity consumption by 2 to 4% when implemented in isolation and by nearly 7% when implemented in combination. These findings suggest an important role for social nudges in the regulation of electricity markets and a limited role for crowd out effects.
Omar Al-Ubaydli, John A List
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This is a review of the literature of field experimental studies of markets. The main results covered by the review are as follows: (1) Generally speaking, markets organize the efficient exchange of commodities; (2) There are some behavioral anomalies that impede efficient exchange; (3) Many behavioral anomalies disappear when traders are experienced.