Date of Graduation

5-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Economics (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Economics

Advisor

Peter McGee

Committee Member

Sherry Li

Second Committee Member

Andy Brownback

Keywords

Conflict, Group Identity, Motivated Reasoning, Public Goods, Willful Ignorance

Abstract

This dissertation contains essays on economic experiments. The first chapter, “Well, at Least I Tried: Partial Willful Ignorance, Information Acquisition, and Social Preferences,” focuses on the effects of information acquisition on social decision-making. The second chapter, “Paved With Good Intentions: Partial Willful Ignorance and Group Identity in Public Goods Games,” focuses on the effect of information acquisition on contributions to public goods. I also explore human conflict in the third chapter, “Risk Preferences and Reform Paths: Experimental Evidence.”

In my first chapter, “Well, at Least I Tried: Partial Willful Ignorance, Information Acquisition, and Social Preferences”, I investigate whether remaining partially ignorant of the consequences of one’s decision leads to a decrease in prosocial behavior. In the experiment, subjects play as dictators (using the strategy method) in a dictator game, where they must choose either a known distribution or an unknown distribution between themselves and the recipient. They can choose to acquire signals about the recipient’s payoff in the unknown game, and information acquisition may be costly or free. This yields a 2 x 2 experimental design – information acquisition may be costly or free, and the revealed distribution may be selfish or prosocial. I find that subjects acquire more free information than costly information. I also find that subjects are more likely to acquire additional signals when they believe that the unknown distribution is prosocial. On average, subjects who believe the distribution in the unknown game is prosocial acquire one additional signal relative to subjects who believe the distribution is selfish (conditional on acquiring at least one signal). I also find evidence that subjects look for excuses to be selfish.

In my second dissertation chapter, “Paved With Good Intentions: Partial Willful Ignorance and Group Identity in Public Goods Games,”, I investigate whether remaining partially ignorant of the consequences of one’s decision leads to an increase in free-riding behavior in a public goods game, particularly when subjects are strongly attached to a particular group identity. I do this by introducing a noisy signal to agents in a public goods game; some agents go through an identity formation task to test the effects of identity on information acquisition. Subjects then play a simultaneous public goods game. Data is in the process of being collected and will be presented at the defense.

The third chapter of my dissertation, “Risk Preferences and Reform Paths: Experimental Evidence”, uses an experiment to test the land reform model outlined in Horowitz’s 1993 paper in The American Economic Review, “Time Paths of Land Reform: A Theoretical Model of Reform Dynamics.” The model predicts that, given risk-neutral agents, there is a unique reform path that avoids conflict. When agents are risk-averse, multiple safe reform paths exist. Risk-neutral agents should always accept the risk-neutral path, while risk-averse agents should always accept both the risk-neutral and risk-averse reform paths. I find that neither of the reform path types outlined in Horowitz prevent conflict, and that this failure is explained neither by loss aversion nor by risk aversion.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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