Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Coming Full Circle: Experimental Economists on Reactivity

Jimenez-Buedo Maria Jimenez-Buedo, Ms

For years, the phenomenon of experimental reactivity (defined as the alteration of the subject’s behavior as a result of their awareness of being studied), seemed to be of little or no concern to experimental economists. With their clear-cut methodological stance shaped by Vernon Smith’s list of precepts (Smith 1982), economists could avoid the worries associated with subjects’ reactivity through a ferrous control over the incentives proposed by the experimental setting as designed in the game. More recently, as experimental economists gradually moved in their study toward topics in which economic incentives intermingled with normative considerations (such as in the study of altruism, punishment, or social norms), a corresponding interest in the problem of reactivity has ensued. Leading experimental economists have dealt with reactivity in its various forms and its potential to bias experimental results (Zizzo 2010, Bardsley 2008, Levitt and List 2007). The paper explores how experimental and behavioral economists have navigated from their early self-aware efforts to distinguish their experiments as much as possible from those of fellow psychologists to the present; where the discipline is gradually taking up the conceptual work of classic social psychologists such as Orne to deal with reactivity and experimenter demand effects. The paper offers an interpretation of this transit in which it is the success of the experimental economists and the unforeseen expansion of their object of enquiry into the realm of norm-related behavior that makes experimental economists ultimately adopt some of the conceptual tools of psychologists, undermining their initial methodological project.

Area:

Keywords: experimental economics; behavioral economics; experimental reactivity

Paper file