What's Psychology Worth? A Field Experiment in the Consumer Credit Market

60 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2006 Last revised: 1 Jul 2010

See all articles by Dean Karlin

Dean Karlin

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Marianne Bertrand

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Dean S. Karlan

Yale University; Innovations for Poverty Action; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Sendhil Mullainathan

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Eldar Shafir

Princeton University

Jonathan Zinman

Dartmouth College; Innovations for Poverty Action; Jameel Poverty Action Lab; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 2005

Abstract

Numerous laboratory studies find that minor nuances of presentation and description change behavior in ways that are inconsistent with standard economic models. How much do these context effect matter in natural settings, when consumers make large, real decisions and have the opportunity to learn from experience? We report on a field experiment designed to address this question. A South African lender sent letters offering incumbent clients large, short-term loans at randomly chosen interest rates. The letters also contained independently randomized psychological "features" that were motivated by specific types of frames and cues shown to be powerful in the lab, but which, from a normative perspective, ought to have no impact. Consistent with standard economics, the interest rate significantly affected loan take-up. Inconsistent with standard economics, some of the psychological features also significantly affected take-up. The average effect of a psychological manipulation was equivalent to a one half percentage point change in the monthly interest rate. Interestingly, the psychological features appear to have greater impact in the context of less advantageous offers and persist across different income and education levels. In short, even in a market setting with large stakes and experienced customers, subtle psychological features appear to be powerful drivers of behavior. The findings pose a challenge for the social sciences: they suggest that psychological nuance matters but may be inherently difficult to predict given the impact of context. Successful incorporation of psychological features into field studies is likely to prove a vital, but nontrivial, addition to the formation of more general theories on when, why, and how frames and cues influence important decisions.

Suggested Citation

Karlin, Dean and Bertrand, Marianne and Karlan, Dean S. and Mullainathan, Sendhil and Shafir, Eldar and Zinman, Jonathan, What's Psychology Worth? A Field Experiment in the Consumer Credit Market (December 2005). NBER Working Paper No. w11892. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=875667

Dean Karlin

affiliation not provided to SSRN

No Address Available

Marianne Bertrand (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-5943 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://gsbwww.uchicago.edu/fac/marianne.bertrand/vita/cv_0604.pdf

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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617-588-0341 (Phone)
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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Dean S. Karlan

Yale University ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, CT 06520-8269
United States

Innovations for Poverty Action ( email )

1731 Connecticut Ave, 4th floor
New Haven, CT 20009
United States

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) ( email )

E60-246
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

Sendhil Mullainathan

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2720 (Phone)
617-495-7730 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-588-1473 (Phone)
617-876-2742 (Fax)

Eldar Shafir

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

Jonathan Zinman

Dartmouth College ( email )

Hanover, NH 03755
United States
603-646-0075 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.dartmouth.edu/jzinman/

Innovations for Poverty Action

1731 Connecticut Ave, 4th floor
New Haven, CT 20009
United States

Jameel Poverty Action Lab

E60-246
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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