Homer J. Livingston Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago
My research focuses on questions in microeconomics, with a particular emphasis on the use of experimental methods to address both positive and normative issues. Much of my time has been spent developing experimental methods in the field.
My general research strategy is to take advantage of settings where interesting economic phenomena naturally present themselves. In most cases nature does not properly randomize agents into interesting control and treatment groups, so my chore is to develop markets/constructs/experimental designs wherein subjects are randomized into treatments of interest. In this light, I view field experiments as representing a unique manner in which to obtain data because they force the researcher to understand everyday phenomena, many of which we stumble upon frequently. Merely grasping the interrelationships of factors in field settings is not enough, however, as the field experimenter must then seek to understand more distant phenomena that have the same underlying structure. Until this is achieved, one cannot reap the true rewards of field experimentation.
I have made use of several different markets to obtain data in my field experiments, including a myriad of charitable fundraising activities, the Chicago Board of Trade, Costa Rican CEOs, the new automobile market, sports memorabilia markets, coin markets, auto repair markets, open air markets located everywhere - from the US to Morocco to India-various venues on the internet, several auction settings, shopping malls, various labor markets, and grammar and high schools.
More recently, I have been engaged in a series of field experiments with various publicly traded corporations-from car manufacturers to travel companies. I view this as exciting because I can put economic theories/approaches on the line in markets economists concern themselves with; results thus far have been above expectations, as successful field experiments yielding quite interesting data patterns have been generated. The companies have loved the field experiments too, since they have made some cash (note that my payment is not money, but the data - a few papers are very close for public distribution).
Overall, the data that I have collected have provided insights into pricing behavior, discrimination in the marketplace, the valuation of nonmarketed goods and services, public good provisioning, behavioral anomalies, charitable giving, auction theory, and the role of the market in the development of rationality.
Methodologically, I have spent time thinking about whether laboratory behavior is a good indicator of behavior in the field, and whether, and to what extent, markets and/or market experience affect the size and extent of behavioral anomalies observed in lab experiments. In some cases, the increase in knowledge due to field experiments has overturned verdicts of yesterday. In others, the findings have reinforced the literature that has drawn inference from either lab or naturally-occurring data.
In this manner, I view field experiments as representing a bridge between the lab and naturally-occurring data. Please visit my website for a clearinghouse of field experiments that help shape this bridge:
Some recent discussions of my work can be found here:
Below I list some recent publications. The field website provided above includes copies of many of these studies as well as several others.
Selected Recent Publications (please contact me if you desire a complete publication list):
Landry, Craig, Andreas Lange, John A. List, Michael K. Price, and Nicholas G. Rupp, "Is a Donor in Hand Better than Two in the Bush? Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment.," American Economic Review, (2009), forthcoming.
Levitt, Steven D., John A. List, and David Reiley, "What Happens in the Field Stays in the Field: Professionals Do Not Play Minimax in Laboratory Experiments," Econometrica, forthcoming, 2009.
Levitt, Steven D. and John A. List, "Field Experiments in Economics: The Past, The Present, and The Future," European Economic Review, forthcoming, 2009.
Gneezy, Uri, Kenneth Leonard, and John A. List, "Gender Differences in Competition: Evidence from a Matrilineal and a Patriarchal Society," Econometrica (2009), forthcoming.
Haigh, Michael and List, John A., "Investment under Uncertainty: Testing the Options Model with Professional Traders," Review of Economics and Statistics, (2009), forthcoming.
List, John A., "Informed Consent in Social Science," Science, October 21, 2008, 322(5886), p. 672.
List, John A., "Homo experimentalis evolves," Science, July 11, 2008, 321(5886), pp. 207-208.
Fryer, Roland G. Steven D. Levitt, and John A. List, "Exploring the impact of financial incentives on stereotype threat: Evidence from a pilot study," American Economic Review, (2008) 98(P&P issue), pp. 370-375.
Andersen, Steffen, Erwin Bulte, Uri Gneezy, and John A. List, "Do women supply more public goods than men? Preliminary experimental evidence from matrilineal and patriarchal societies" American Economic Review, (2008) 98(P&P issue), pp. 376-381.
Levitt, Steven D. and John A. List, "Homo economicus evolves," Science, Feburary 15, 2008, 319(5865), pp. 909-910.
Harrison, Glenn W. and John A. List, "Naturally Occurring Markets and Exogenous Laboratory Experiments: A Case Study of the Winner's Curse," Economic Journal, (2008), 118, pp. 822-843.
Karlan, Dean and John A. List. "Does Price Matter in Charitable Giving? Evidence from a Large-Scale Natural Field Experiment," American Economic Review, (2007), 97(5), pp. 1774-1793.
Harrison, Glenn W., John A. List, and Charles Towe, "Naturally Occurring Preferences and Exogenous Laboratory Experiments: A Case Study of Risk Aversion," Econometrica, (2007), 75 (2): 433-458.
Alevy, Jon, Michael Haigh, and John A. List. "Information Cascades: Evidence from a Field Experiment with Financial Market Professionals," Journal of Finance, (2007), 62 (1): 151-180.
List, John A. "On the Interpretation of Giving in Dictator Games," Journal of Political Economy, (2007), 115(3): 482-494.
Lange, Andreas, John A. List, and Michael K. Price, "Using Lotteries to Finance Public Goods: Theory and Experimental Evidence," International Economic Review, (2007), 48(3), pp. 901-927.
Levitt, Steven D. and John A. List, "What do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences tell us about the Real World," Journal of Economic Perspectives, (2007), 21 (2): 153-174.
List, John A. and Daniel Sturm. "How Elections Matter: Theory and Evidence from Environmental Policy," Quarterly Journal of Economics, (2006), November 121(4): 1249-1281.
Gneezy, Uri, and John A. List. "Putting Behavioral Economics to Work: Testing for Gift Exchange in Labor Markets Using Field Experiments," Econometrica, (2006), September, 74(5): 1365-1384.
List, John A., "Friend or Foe? A Natural Experiment of the Prisoner's Dilemma," Review of Economics and Statistics, (2006), August, 88(3): 463-471
Gneezy, Uri, John A. List, George Wu, "The Uncertainty Effect: When a Risky Prospect is Valued Less than its Worst Possible Outcome," Quarterly Journal of Economics, (2006), November 121(4): 1283-1309.
List, John A., "The Behavioralist Meets the Market: Measuring Social Preferences and Reputation Effects in Actual Transactions," Journal of Political Economy, (2006), 114(1): 1-37.
Landry, Craig, Andreas Lange, John A. List, Michael K. Price, and Nicholas Rupp. "Toward an Understanding of the Economics of Charity: Evidence from a Field Experiment," Quarterly Journal of Economics, (2006), 121 (2): 747-782.
van Doest, Daan, John A. List, and T. Jeppesen "Shadow Prices, Environmental Stringency, and International Competitiveness," European Economic Review, (2006), 50(5): 1151-1167.
Engelbrecht-Wiggans, Richard, John A. List, and David Reiley. "Demand Reduction in a Multi-Unit Auctions with Varying Numbers of Bidders: Theory and Evidence from a Field Experiment," International Economic Review (2006), 47(1): 203-232.
Haigh, Michael and List, John A. "Do Professional Traders Exhibit Myopic Loss Aversion? An Experimental Analysis," Journal of Finance, (2005), 60 (1): 523-534.
List, John A. and Michael K. Price "Conspiracies and Secret Price Discounts in the Marketplace: Evidence from Field Experiments," Rand Journal of Economics, (2005), 36(3): 700-717.
Engelbrecht-Wiggans, Richard, John A. List, and David Reiley. "Demand Reduction in a Multi-Unit Auction: Evidence from a Sportscard Field Experiment: Reply," American Economic Review (2005), 95 (1): 472-476.
List, John A. and Michael Haigh. "A Simple Test of Expected Utility Theory Using Professional Traders," Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (2005), 102(3): 945-948.
List, John A. "Testing Neoclassical Competitive Theory in Multi-Lateral Decentralized Markets," Journal of Political Economy (2004), 112(5): 1131-1156.
List, John A. Robert Berrens, Alok Bohara, and Joe Kerkvliet. "Examining the Role of Social Isolation on Stated Preferences," American Economic Review (2004), 94 (3): 741-752.
Harrison, Glenn and John A. List. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature (2004), XLII (December): 1013-1059.
List, John A. "Neoclassical Theory Versus Prospect Theory: Evidence from the Marketplace," Econometrica (2004), 72(2): 615-625.
List, John A. "The Nature and Extent of Discrimination in the Marketplace: Evidence from the Field," Quarterly Journal of Economics (2004), 119(1): 49-89.
Fehr, Ernst and List, John A. "The Hidden Costs and Returns of Incentives - Trust and Trustworthiness among CEOs," Journal of the European Economic Association (2004), 2(5), 743-771.
List, John A. "Young, Selfish, and Male: Field Evidence of Social Preferences," Economic Journal (2004), 114(492): 121-149.
List, John A. "Does Market Experience Eliminate Market Anomalies?," Quarterly Journal of Economics (2003), 118(1), 41-71.
Pacala, Steven, Erwin Bulte, John A. List, and Simon Levin, "False Alarm over Environmental False Alarms," Science (2003), 301(5637), 1187-1189.
Millimet, Daniel, List, John A., and Stengos, Thanasis. "The Environmental Kuznets Curve: Real Progress or Misspecified Models?" Review of Economics and Statistics (2003), 85: 1038-1047.
List, John A., Millimet, Daniel, Fredriksson, Per, and McHone, Warren. "Effects of Environmental Regulations on Manufacturing Plant Births: Evidence from a Propensity Score Matching Estimator," Review of Economics and Statistics (2003), 85: 944-952.
Fredriksson, Per, List, John A. and Millimet, Daniel. "Bureaucratic Corruption, Environmental Policy and Inbound US FDI: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Public Economics (2003), 87 (7-8): 1407-1430.
List, John A. "Preference Reversals of a Different Kind: The More is Less Phenomenon," American Economic Review (2002), 92(5): 1636-1643.
List, John A. and Lucking-Reiley, David. "The Effects of Seed Money and Refunds on Charitable Giving: Experimental Evidence from a University Capital Campaign," Journal of Political Economy (2002), 110(1): 215-233
List, John A. "Testing Neoclassical Competitive Market Theory in the Field," Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (2002), 99 (24): 15827-15830.
List, John A. "Do Explicit Warnings Eliminate the Hypothetical Bias in Elicitation Procedures? Evidence from Field Auctions for Sportscards," American Economic Review (2001), 91(5): 1498-1507.
List, John A. and Lucking-Reiley, David. "Demand Reduction in a Multi-Unit Auction: Evidence from a Sportscard Field Experiment," American Economic Review (2000), September, 90(4): 961-972.
List John A. and Jason F. Shogren, "Calibration of the difference between actual and hypothetical valuations in a field experiment." Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, (1998), 37 (2): 193-205. This study reports on the first field experiment that I conducted scientifically. Although I conducted what amounted to several pilots in this market during the late 80s and early 90s, this experiment, which was conducted in 1995, was my first true experience with a controlled scientific study in the field.
Books1. Recent Advances in Environmental Economics. Edward Elgar Publishers. Edited with Aart de Zeeuw. 2003.
2. Field Experiments in Economics. Handbook of Experimental Economics. Elsevier. Edited with Jeffrey Carpenter and Glenn Harrison, 2005.
3. Using Experimental Methods in Environmental and Resource Economics. Edward Elgar Publishers. Edited, 2006.
4. Field Experiments. Princeton University Press. Written with Glenn Harrison, 2007 (in progress).
5. Handbook of Experimental Economics. Edward Elgar Publishers. Edited with Michael Price, 2007 (in progress).
I present here eight main lines of research that I've conducted. Each speaks to a slightly different audience. A brief description of field experiment schemes follows. I invite you to read through many of the papers linked to on this site.
Charitable giving is an increasingly important component of our national economy comprising over 2% of GDP in 2008. However, relatively little is known about what drives people to give to charities. This line of research includes large scale field experiments to investigate charitable giving.
For Policy Makers
Economics can provide interesting insights into problems that policy makers often try to tackle like education and discrimination. Some of my current research includes investigating incentive schemes on educational outcomes through the Griffin grant. Over the next several years, I'll be working with Steve Levitt and Roland Fryer to investigate early childhood interventions in a metrics based environment at the newly established Griffin Early Childhood Center in Chicago Heights, Illinois. Also be sure to look at the research in the new Freakonomics movie. read more
Testing Economic Theory
Economics has volumes of work on theory. I try to test economic theory using data from the lab and the field. These tests of economic theory provide a richer understanding for our conceptualization of basic economic principles.
Students and Academics
As a student at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point and the University of Wyoming, I learned about the importance of advice and wisdom about what major to focus on, and how to approach the selection of graduate programs and first jobs. I have therefore attempted to maintain an active research program in this area.
Methodology is viewed by some to have the same type of draw as calisthenics. Yet, it must be done! In this section resides some of my work in this area.
I have spent time thinking about whether laboratory behavior is a good indicator of behavior in the field, and whether, and to what extent, markets and/or market experience affect the size and extent of behavioral anomalies observed in lab experiments. In some cases, the increase in knowledge due to field experiments has overturned verdicts of yesterday. In others, the findings have reinforced the literature that has drawn inference from either lab or naturally-occurring data.
Summaries of work hold, in part, because they provide other scholars with sign posts on where a literature is. In this section I post some of my work that summarizes literatures.
Until recently, scholars had not made use of field experiments to explore issues in finance. Some of my work fills that void.
Benefit-cost analysis remains the main decision tool for policy makers around the globe. Work here focuses on improving - both theoretically and empirically - that approach. These advances, in turn, instruct policy makers on how to more accurately value ecosystem damages, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill or BP's oil leak.