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Four Classic Public Goods Experiments: A Replication Study

Replication in Experimental Economics

ISBN: 978-1-78560-351-8, eISBN: 978-1-78560-350-1

ISSN: 0193-2306

Publication date: 13 October 2015


This paper replicates four highly cited, classic lab experimental studies in the provision of public goods. The studies consider the impact of marginal per capita return and group size; framing (as donating to or taking from the public good); the role of confusion in the public goods game; and the effectiveness of peer punishment. Considerable attention has focused recently on the problem of publication bias, selective reporting, and the importance of research transparency in social sciences. Replication is at the core of any scientific process and replication studies offer an opportunity to reevaluate, confirm or falsify previous findings. This paper illustrates the value of replication in experimental economics. The experiments were conducted as class projects for a PhD course in experimental economics, and follow exact instructions from the original studies and current standard protocols for lab experiments in economics. Most results show the same pattern as the original studies, but in all cases with smaller treatment effects and lower statistical significance, sometimes falling below accepted levels of significance. In addition, we document a “Texas effect,” with subjects consistently exhibiting higher levels of contributions and lower free-riding than in the original studies. This research offers new evidence on the attenuation effect in replications, well documented in other disciplines and from which experimental economics is not immune. It also opens the discussion over the influence of unobserved heterogeneity in institutional environments and subject pools that can affect lab results.




Thanks to the staff of the Center for Behavioral and Experimental Economic Science (CBEES), especially Wendy Mak Lee, who guided the students through the programming of the experiments; Eric McLester, who handled the IRB applications and communication; Sheheryar Banuri, who was TA for the course; and the many undergraduate research assistants who helped conduct the sessions: Ravi Hanumara, Tanushree Jhunjhunwala, Nick Lafferty, Nathan Eacret, Anthony Tantillo, Addison Ziegler. Zhengzheng Wang and Billur Aksoy assisted with manuscript preparation. Funding was provided by CBEES and the Negotiations Center at UT Dallas.

The course papers on which this paper is based are as follows:

Manca, Simone, Sabrina Ren, and Noha Sobi, “A Replication of: Group Size Effects in Public Good Provision: The Voluntary Contribution Mechanism.”

George, Justin, and Parneet Pahwa, “A Replication of Cooperation in Public-Goods Experiment: Kindness or Confusion.”

Holcomb, Alex, Victoria Obiadeze, and Shidi Wang, “Framing, It Really Does Matter.”

Alzahrani, Ahmed, Haley Harwell, Caitlin McKillop, and Zhengzheng Wang “A Replication of ‘Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments.”


Eckel, C.C., Harwell, H. and Castillo G., J.G. (2015), "Four Classic Public Goods Experiments: A Replication Study", Replication in Experimental Economics (Research in Experimental Economics, Vol. 18), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 13-40.



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