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Real Effort Tasks in Economic Experiments: An Empirical Comparison of Tasks and their Behavioral Effects

On 13th November 2017 (1-2 pm), Dr. Fabian Winter, Head of Max Planck Research Group "Mechanisms of Normative Change" of the Max Planck Institute for Collective Goods in Bonn, will give a presentation about "Real Effort Tasks in Economic Experiments: An Empirical Comparison of Tasks and their Behavioral Effects". Afterwards, Mr. Winter will be available for questions and discussions. His presentation is part of


Real effort tasks have become an indispensable tool to induce a more realistic source of income in economic experiments. They usually serve either of two purposes: to overcome the "house money'' or "manna-from-heaven'' effect by introducing an element of deservedness, or to investigate the outcome of different payment-schemes, e.g. flat payment vs. piece-rate vs. tournaments. The experimental literature is full of different Real Effort Tasks, and every author claims that his or her task is particularly tedious/fair/fun etc. However, the empirical evidence comparing these tasks is surprisingly sparse. Even more importantly, however, nothing is known about how the specific characteristics of the Real Effort Task influence the outcome of the "real'' experiment conducted after the task. For instance, how does the perceived fairness of the task influence the claims on the produced good? The first part of the paper surveys the literature and experimentally compares 10 different Real Effort Tasks under varying conditions. Among those tasks are "classics'' like the Counting Zeros Task, Word Encryption or the Slider Task, but also more exotic tasks like threading beads to a wire. I report the participants performance in the task as well as self-assessed judgements about several of the task's characteristics, such as fairness or fun. This part may serve the reader as an extensive library for future experiments. Part two investigates some variations of the Counting Zeros Task, such as outside options or tournament schemes. In part three, I derive hypothesis about how specific characteristics of the Real Effort Task may influence a simple Nash bargaining game. In this game, two participants bargain over their joint earnings from the Real Effort Task. The epmirical results provide some evidence for differential effects between Real Effort Tasks. Real Effort Tasks which are perceived as particularly "tedious'' result in significantly less egalitarian choices, and thereby simplify the coordination on the focal "effort''-norm. This, in turn, leads to significantly less normative conflict and higher successful transactions as compared to tasks which are considered more "fun''. The latter tasks result in a mixture of egalitarian and "effort''-norms. Finally, I give suggestions on how to choose an appropriate real effort task for future experiments.

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