Naturally Occurring Preferences and Exogenous Laboratory Experiments: A Case Study of Risk Aversion
Glenn W. Harrison
Georgia State University - J. Mack Robinson College of Business
John A. List
University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)
University of Maryland - Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the National Center for Smart Growth
UCF Economics Working Paper No. 04-22
Does individual behavior in a laboratory setting provide a reliable indicator of behavior in a naturally occurring setting? We consider this general methodological question in the context of eliciting risk attitudes. The controls that are typically employed in laboratory settings, such as the use of abstract lotteries, could lead subjects to employ behavioral rules that differ from the ones they employ in the field. Since it is field behavior that we are interested in understanding, those controls might be a confound in themselves if they result in differences in behavior. We find that the use of artificial monetary prizes provides a reliable measure of risk attitudes when the natural counterpart outcome has minimal uncertainty, but that it can provide an unreliable measure when the natural counterpart outcome has background risk. These results are consistent with conventional expected utility theory for the effects of background risk on attitudes to risk. Behavior tended to be risk-loving when artificial monetary prizes were used or when there was minimal uncertainty in the natural non-monetary outcome. But subjects drawn from the same population were risk-averse when their attitudes were elicited using the natural non-monetary outcome that had some background risk. Theory predicts this effect of background risk, but not the change from risk-loving to risk-aversion.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 30
Keywords: Risk-aversion, field experiments
JEL Classification: D81, C93working papers series
Date posted: April 20, 2005
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