Did We Overestimate the Role of Social Preferences? The Case of Self-Selected Student Samples

26 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2010

See all articles by Armin Falk

Armin Falk

briq - Institute on Behavior & Inequality

Stephan Meier

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Columbia Business School - Management

Christian Zehnder

University of Lausanne

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 23, 2010

Abstract

Social preference research has fundamentally changed the way economists think about many important economic and social phenomena. However, the empirical foundation of social preferences is largely based on laboratory experiments with self-selected students as participants. This is potentially problematic as students participating in experiments may behave systematically different than non-participating students or non-students. In this paper we empirically investigate whether laboratory experiments with student samples misrepresent the importance of social preferences. Our first study shows that students who exhibit stronger prosocial inclinations in an unrelated field donation are not more likely to participate in experiments. This suggests that self-selection of more prosocial students into experiments is not a major issue. Our second study compares behavior of students and the general population in a trust experiment. We find very similar behavioral patterns for the two groups. If anything, the level of reciprocation seems higher among non-students implying an even greater importance of social preferences than assumed from student samples.

Keywords: methodology, selection, experiments, prosocial behavior

JEL Classification: C90, D03

Suggested Citation

Falk, Armin and Meier, Stephan and Zehnder, Christian, Did We Overestimate the Role of Social Preferences? The Case of Self-Selected Student Samples (September 23, 2010). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 3177. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1681280

Armin Falk (Contact Author)

briq - Institute on Behavior & Inequality

Schaumburg-Lippe-Straße 5-9
Bonn, 53113
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.briq-institute.org/

Stephan Meier

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston ( email )

600 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02210
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Columbia Business School - Management ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Christian Zehnder

University of Lausanne ( email )

Quartier Chambronne
Lausanne, Vaud CH-1015
Switzerland

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