Experimental Evidence on Undergraduate Recruitment: Lessons from Creating a Subject Pool Registry

Laura Paul, Leah Palm-Forster, and Kent Messer

Recruitment of subjects is a critical step for any data collection. This project aims to identify the best practices for inviting university students by email to register for a program. We are creating a recruitment pool for future experiments at a large research university in the mid-Atlantic. Our email invitation will test the effect between two messages, randomly assigned to each student. These messages are based on lessons from behavioral economics: does a message mentioning the potential to receive monetary compensation for participation increase response of students? We will evaluate registration by message treatment to identify the most effective way to invite students to register. The introduction of this recruitment registry is a unique opportunity to address a research question on recruitment with a large sample size. To date, 20,696 experimental emails have been sent. In total, 1,216 undergraduates have registered for the participant pool after receiving an invitation, and there is evidence of a treatment effect (7.79% registered from monetary compensation message, 3.95% for control message).

Measures of Willingness to Pay and Willingness to Accept in Consumer Valuation Experiments

Tongzhe Li, Laura A. Paul, Kent D. Messer, and Harry M. Kaiser


Willingness to pay (WTP) and willingness to accept (WTA) measures are commonly used for economic analysis with wide-ranging implications for consumer demand, social welfare, marketing, policy, and economic theory. Economic studies have often observed an inconsistency between WTP and WTA—where elicited WTP is generally lower than WTA relative to what behavioral models would predict—but explanation of the WTP-WTA gap remains unresolved. Notably, the gap is largest for things that have large and relatively unknown value, such as the value of biodiversity in the Brazilian rainforest, in contrast to something that is smaller and has a relatively well-known value – such as a $5 bill.

Our paper informs situations where food choices might be best framed with either WTP or WTA using a framed field experiment with 292 adult subjects who participated in either a conventional or a reverse Becker-DeGroot-Marschak (BDM) auction designed to elicit consumer WTP (product purchasing) or WTA (task performing) for yogurt smoothies of various known production dates. Two important findings arise from this design. First, production date and labeling have consistent marginal effects on valuation regardless of the auction format, which suggests that either WTP or WTA estimates in the experimental auction literature can likely result in consistent policy implications. Second, there is a significantly different proportion of zero bids at each production date, which signals the existence of censoring. In a situation where some consumers might have a significant negative response to a product, a zero WTP value is not sufficient data and WTA should be collected.

Heterogeneous and Conditional Returns from DT Maize for Farmers in Southern Africa

Laura Paul

Under Review

Abstract: This paper assesses the return to DT maize using four years of data from on-farm yield trials and high-resolution precipitation data (10-day measurements at a 0.05° resolution) in southern Africa to assess claims of the DT maize advantage. On farms (rather than controlled trials) DT maize yield slightly exceeds that of other varieties: 7% higher yields on average, and 15% higher yields under moderate drought stress with additional heterogeneity in returns across high and low performing farms. For low-performing farms, a net loss of $10/ha of DT maize increases to a net gain of $30/ha in a drought year.

Recording from Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk and Resilience Event in Washington, DC on October 31, 2019:

Demand for an Environmental Public Good in the Time of COVID-19: A Statewide Water Quality Referendum

George Parsons, Laura Paul, and Kent Messer

Abstract: Due to COVID-19, many households face hardship — unemployment, an uncertain economic future, forced separation, and more. At the same time, the number of people participated in outdoor recreation is reported to be on the rise, as it was one of the few activities still permitted. How these experiences affect the public’s willing to pay for environmental public goods is unknown. During the pandemic, we conducted a stated preference survey to value statewide water quality improvements in Delaware. While a majority of participants report experiencing hardship of some sort (economic, emotional, etc.), mean household WTP declined by only 7% post-COVID. Based on our results, legislation being debated at the time of the outbreak passes a benefit-cost test (and majority vote) either pre- or post-COVID.

Nudge or Sludge? An Experimental Game Illustrating How Misunderstood Scientific Information Can Change Consumer Behavior

Laura Paul, Olesya Savchenko, Maik Kecinski, and Kent Messer

Scientific information can be designed to help people understand and describe the natural world. Consumers regularly seek out information about their food and drink to help inform their decisions. While this search is generally viewed as a positive process, it becomes troubling when consumers respond negatively to scientific information, even when this scientific information does not intend to convey a negative signal. This misunderstanding and stigmatization can be difficult from the perspective of federal and state regulations related to the labeling of food and drink. Labels have often been compared to the “nudges” popularized by behavioral economics. Nudges are low-cost interventions made at the time of a decision, and they can have large effects on behavior, but they have been referred to as “sludges” when they end up misleading people. The objective of this paper is to introduce an engaging and interactive classroom activity using a second-price auction and an informational label treatment to introduce behavioral economics and measurement of its effects. Additional classroom discussion topics are presented, including comparing nudges and sludges, the public response to the treatment of tap water, and the role of safety information in consumer response.