The Willingness to Pay-Willingness to Accept Gap, the 'Endowment Effect,' Subject Misconceptions, and Experimental Procedures for Eliciting Valuations
Charles R. Plott
California Institute of Technology - Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences
Boston University School of Law
June 1, 2005
American Economic Review, June 2005
We conduct experiments to explore the possibility that subject misconceptions, as opposed to a particular theory of preferences referred to as the "endowment effect," account for reported gaps between willingness to pay ("WTP") and willingness to accept ("WTA"). Two facts are evident in the literature. First, there is no consensus regarding the nature or robustness of the WTA-WTP gap. Secondly, while experimenters are very concerned to avoid subject misconceptions, there is no consensus about the fundamental properties of misconceptions or how they might be avoided. Instead, experimenters have revealed different conceptions of the phenomena through different types of experimental procedures and controls. Such controls involve the role of anonymity, elicitation mechanisms, practice and training applied separately or in different combinations. The resulting pattern of research leaves open the possibility that the widely differing reports of a gap between WTP and WTA could be due to an incomplete science regarding subject misconceptions. The lack of a theory of misconceptions is replaced by what we will call a revealed theory methodology in which theories implicit in experimental procedures found in the literature are at the heart of the new experimental design. Thus, the approach reported here reflects an attempt to simultaneously control for all dimensions of concern found in the literature. To this end our procedures modify the Becker-DeGroot-Marschak mechanism used in previous studies to elicit values. In addition, our procedures supplement commonly used procedures by providing extensive training on the elicitation mechanism before subjects provide WTP and WTA responses. Experiments were conducted using both lotteries and mugs, goods frequently used in endowment effect experiments. Using the modified procedures, we find no support for the hypothesis that WTA is significantly greater than WTP. In addition, we find no support that an observed gap can be convincingly interpreted as an endowment effect and conclude that further evidence is required before convincing interpretations of any observed gap can be advanced.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 46
Keywords: endowment effect, experiment, WTP-WTA gap, misconceptions
JEL Classification: C91, D46, K10
Date posted: November 15, 2004 ; Last revised: July 7, 2015
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