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Do photos help or hinder field experiments of discrimination?

Judith Rich (Department of Economics and Finance, University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK)

International Journal of Manpower

ISSN: 0143-7720

Article publication date: 2 July 2018




The purpose of this paper is to assess field experiments of labour and product markets that have attached photos to identify applicants (in the case of labour markets) or sellers/crowd funders (in the case of product markets).


The experiments seek to identify the contribution of attractiveness, race/ethnicity, skin colour, sexual orientation or religion to the behaviour of agents in markets. These experiments attach photos to CV to signal attractiveness, or the basis of being tested such as race/ethnicity, skin colour or religion.


Many experiments report significant findings for the impact of attractiveness or the identity revealed on positive callbacks to applicants.

Research limitations/implications

The issue considered here, however, is to what extent it is attractiveness or other perceived characteristics that may have had an impact on the behaviour recorded in the experiments. The results of the studies covered in this paper, to a lesser extent those of Weichselbaumer (2004) and Baert (2017), are compromised by including photos, with the possibility the responses received were influenced not only by the basis being tested such as attractiveness, race/ethnicity or religion but by some other characteristic unintended by the researcher but conveyed by the photo.

Practical implications

There is evidence in the experimental work of a range of characteristics that photos convey of individuals and their impact on labour and product market outcomes such as success in obtaining a positive response to job applications and success in obtaining funding to finance projects in the product market. Suggestions are made for future experiments: evaluation of photos for a range of characteristics; use of a “no photo” application together with the photo applications; and evaluation of responses for any bias from unobservable characteristics using Neumark (2012).


This paper discusses for the first time three questions with some tentative answers. First, the researcher faces introducing further unobservable characteristics by using photos. Second, the researcher cannot fully control the experimental approach when using photos. Third, the researcher is able to accurately evaluate the impact of the photos used on the response/probability of call back. Field experiments using photos need to ensure they do this for the range of factors that have been shown to affect judgments and therefore potentially influence call back response. However, the issue remains whether the researcher has, in fact, identified all potential characteristics conveyed by the photos.



Rich, J. (2018), "Do photos help or hinder field experiments of discrimination?", International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 39 No. 4, pp. 502-518.



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