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Let the others do the job: Comparing public good contribution behavior in the lab and in the field

Ilona Reindl, Roman Hoffmann and Bernhard Kittel

Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), 2019, vol. 81, issue C, 73-83

Abstract: Laboratory experiments provide convincing evidence that many people cooperate even if incentives to free-ride on the contributions of others are present. It is, however, unclear to what extent behavior observed in such a context-free environment is informative about behavior in context-rich field settings. Our study sheds light on this question by comparing students’ contributions to a standard public good game (PGG) with their contributions to a naturally occurring public good, a university course group assignment. Using a within-subject design, we find that students who contribute little in an unconditional PGG are also significantly more likely to free-ride on their peers in the group assignment. As an extension to previous studies, we also consider conditional contribution behavior. We observe that students who are classified as conditional cooperators in the online game also adjust their contributions to the behavior of others in the field. Our results, which are robust to the inclusion of a variety of contextual variables and the use of charitable giving as an alternative outcome measure, suggest that preferences revealed in the lab are informative for strategically comparable field settings. Yet, decision-making in the field is also strongly shaped by situational influences that challenge a direct comparison.

Keywords: Cooperation; Public good game; Free-riding; Experiment; Lab-field-comparison (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: C91 C93 D01 H41 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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