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Big experimenter is watching you! Anonymity and prosocial behavior in the laboratory


Barmettler, Franziska; Fehr, Ernst; Zehnder, Christian (2011). Big experimenter is watching you! Anonymity and prosocial behavior in the laboratory. Working paper series / Department of Economics No. 27, University of Zurich.

Abstract

Social preference research has received considerable attention in recent years. Researchers have demonstrated that the presence of people with other-regarding preferences can have important implications in many economic dimensions. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that the empirical basis of this literature relies to a large extent on experiments that do not provide anonymity between experimenter and subject. It has been argued that this lack of experimenter-subject anonymity may create selfish incentives to engage in seemingly other-regarding behavior. If this were the case these experiments would overestimate the importance of social preferences. Previous studies provide mixed results and methodological di*erences within and across studies make it dificult to isolate the impact of experimenter-subject anonymity on prosocial behavior. In this paper we use a novel procedure that allows us to examine the impact of the exact same ceteris-paribus variation in anonymity on behavior in three of the most commonly used games in the social preference literature. Our data reveals that introducing experimenter-subject anonymity has only minor, insigni*cant, effects on prosocial behavior.

Social preference research has received considerable attention in recent years. Researchers have demonstrated that the presence of people with other-regarding preferences can have important implications in many economic dimensions. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that the empirical basis of this literature relies to a large extent on experiments that do not provide anonymity between experimenter and subject. It has been argued that this lack of experimenter-subject anonymity may create selfish incentives to engage in seemingly other-regarding behavior. If this were the case these experiments would overestimate the importance of social preferences. Previous studies provide mixed results and methodological di*erences within and across studies make it dificult to isolate the impact of experimenter-subject anonymity on prosocial behavior. In this paper we use a novel procedure that allows us to examine the impact of the exact same ceteris-paribus variation in anonymity on behavior in three of the most commonly used games in the social preference literature. Our data reveals that introducing experimenter-subject anonymity has only minor, insigni*cant, effects on prosocial behavior.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Working Paper Series > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
JEL Classification:C91, D03
Language:English
Date:August 2011
Deposited On:25 Nov 2011 10:13
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:08
Series Name:Working paper series / Department of Economics
ISSN:1664-7041
Official URL:http://www.econ.uzh.ch/wp.html
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-51531

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