Discussion Paper

Does Context Matter More for Hypothetical Than for Actual Contributions?: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment

Mar 7, 2008 | Francisco Alpízar, Fredrik Carlsson, Olof Johansson-Stenman

This was created in partnership with Environment for Development .

Abstract

We investigated the importance of the social context for people’s voluntary contributions to a national park in Costa Rica, using a natural field experiment. Some subjects make actual contributions while others state their hypothetical contribution. Both the degree of anonymity and information provided about the contributions of others influence subject contributions in the hypothesized direction. We found a substantial hypothetical bias with regard to the amount contributed. However, the influence of the social contexts is about the same when the subjects make actual monetary contributions as when they state their hypothetical contributions. Our results have important implications for validity testing of stated preference methods: a comparison between hypothetical and actual behavior should be done for a given social context.