, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 372-382
Date: 18 Oct 2012

Is there selection bias in laboratory experiments? The case of social and risk preferences

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Laboratory experiments are frequently used to examine the nature of individuals’ social and risk preferences and inform economic theory. However, it is unknown whether the preferences of volunteer participants are representative of the population from which the participants are drawn, or whether they differ due to selection bias. To answer this question, we measured the preferences of 1,173 students in a classroom experiment using a trust game and a lottery choice task. Separately, we invited all students to participate in a laboratory experiment using common recruitment procedures. To evaluate whether there is selection bias, we compare the social and risk preferences of students who eventually participated in a laboratory experiment to those who did not, and find that they do not differ significantly. However, we also find that people who sent less in a trust game were more likely to participate in a laboratory experiment, and discuss possible explanations for this behavior.

We thank the Editor (David Cooper), two anonymous referees, Jim Andreoni, Tim Cason, Marco Casari, Gary Charness, Rachel Croson, Dirk Engelmann, Ernst Fehr, Simon Gächter, Glenn Harrison, Stephen Leider, John List, Simon Loertscher, Joerg Oechssler and participants at the 2010 Asia-Pacific Meetings of the Economic Science Association at the University of Melbourne, IMEBE 2010 in Bilbao, THEEM 2010 in Thurgau and seminar participants at the University of Mannheim, University of Melbourne, Monash University, the University of Zürich, the Athens University of Economics and Business, the University of Athens, Royal Holloway University of London for comments. We also thank Jeff Borland who allowed us to run the experiment in his class, Nahid Khan who helped coordinate tutors and Viktoriya Koleva for helping to prepare the experimental material. Funding from the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Melbourne and the Faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Sydney is gratefully acknowledged.